Bishop Paul Donoghue met His Holiness Pope Francis in Rome, in November 2021. 20040807.
The pandemic has taught us that money is not the only goal in life; that we can thrive with less; that happiness comes from being together and working together, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue (Catholic Church).
As we continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic,
having endured it now for 18 months, I share some of my observations with you.
Many of us might have been presuming that when the
border is reopened on January 13th it would be at a time when New Zealand would
be free of Covid and we would be able to return to normal here in the Cook
This week in television news I heard that Germany is
now facing its fourth wave of Covid-19, with 48,000 new cases on November 11. I
also heard on the same news that the Cook Islands was celebrating Remembrance
Day which marks the end of the first world war. It was mentioned that Cook
Islands soldiers when leaving for Europe assured their families that they would
be home for Christmas. That world crisis lasted four years. How long will we
have to deal with Covid-19? Like the First World War, it is going to linger on
in my opinion. We are living in a time of trial.
My first observation is that our experience of the
pandemic here in the Cook Islands is very different from that of the rest of
the world. The Cook Islands has not had a case of Covid. We have not had to
care for anyone sick with Covid. We have not had to bury someone who died from
Covid. We did have the experience of lockdown when we were encouraged to work
from home; schools were closed as well as our churches. Fortunately, it was a
relatively short restriction compared to that of most other places. The major
disruption has been the closure of the border for long periods affecting the
tourist industry and those local businesses that support tourism. The economy
has suffered and those associated with tourism have been badly affected. In a
time of crisis, you have to make a choice.
Pope Francis has proclaimed that the pandemic is an
opportunity. If we are going to treat the pandemic as an opportunity in a time
of crisis, we have to respond to it and not ignore it hoping it will go away.
One of the choices we had to make was whether to be
vaccinated or not. We were fortunate to have this choice available as many
poorer countries in the world have not been able to purchase the vaccines at
all. While there have been calls for a humanitarian approach to the
distribution of vaccines those who control such matters have made a decision that
the wealthier countries can have the vaccine first and if there is any leftover
then it will reach the poor.
The basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out
of it the same.
I hope that those of us who aspire to be ‘missionary
disciples of Jesus’ see the implication of using the pandemic as an
opportunity. This is not an opportunity to profit in some way over others but
to genuinely help them. A tendency is to leave this to the government.
Fortunately, our government has been creative in wage subsidies and business grants
and has initiated infrastructure projects that have provided an opportunity for
employment. I am grateful that government did not stop payment to civil
servants such as school teachers.
While we expect the government to cover the big
picture, there is a role for the missionary disciples of Jesus Christ of
whatever religion to reach out into the situation of those who are not on the
radar of the government. I am thinking of the elderly who are no longer part of
The sick, the vulnerable; those with disabilities;
those shut in the home for one reason or another. By going out and helping
others in this time of the pandemic, we missionary disciples are following the
example of the Lord. This Gospel understanding of who we are and what we are
doing gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
We can visit our neighbour and ask if they are
alright. We can observe whether there is enough food available. If they are elderly,
we can ask who is doing the shopping. If sick, who is available to take them to
the hospital? Fortunately, many people are helping and caring, but they may not
see themselves as part of the bigger story.
We have our story of God leading his people even in
the time before Christ. We missionary disciples can understand who we are and
what we do as part of a longer story that goes back to Jesus. Being able to see
ourselves as part of this story gives us strength and purpose which enables us
to serve more readily. We have tapped into a deeper level of spiritual energy.
In this context, another quotation of Pope Francis is
powerful. “The world is always being made. God wants to bring forth the world
with us as partners, continually.” That we are making the world with God, that
we are co-creators, is an amazing thought. Yes, living in a world beset by the
global pandemic is extremely difficult.
Over the last three weeks, much focus has been placed
on the meeting of world leaders at COP26 (Climate Change Conference) in
The message has been a plea to world leaders to make
decisions to reduce the temperature of the world by using less carbon fuels in
order to save the planet from disasters such as forest fires, extreme floods
and even the rising of sea levels. I was disappointed to hear in one of the addresses
at the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Gospel in Aitutaki that
the future of the Cook Islands is in deep-sea mining.
I would have expected at a time when we are concerned
about the destruction of our planet earth that our focus would be on saving the
planet. The Gospel is reminding us that what is happening to God’s creation
demands a more cautionary approach. Surely what brings enormous value to what
we are doing is knowing that we are working with God in creating a better
future for everyone. The pandemic has taught us that money is not the only goal
in life; that we can thrive with less; that happiness comes from being together
and working together. As a country, I hope our values have shifted in the
Then, what might have been important before such as
money is no longer our main focus; that we are not now the same as when the
pandemic started. While we might be blind to what will go on in the depths of
the sea, God sees.
Hopefully, God will continue to see in the oceans His beauty
and not the destruction that humankind has managed to bring about as they have
done on the land, for example, Panguna Copper mine in Bougainville; removing the phosphate from between the walls and
columns of ancient coral in Nauru.
We can believe that with God’s help we can learn many
lessons from our experience of the pandemic. We can discover what we are made
of. We may find there is compassion in our hearts; we may also discover that we
are lacking in compassion, and this may lead us to change and become more
compassionate in the future.
With this knowledge and belief in God with us during
the pandemic, the whole picture changes. While it is a time of trial, it is
also an opportunity for us to choose to create a better world.