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A time to rethink our values

Friday 26 November 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion, Raro on my mind

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A time to rethink our values
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 Islands.

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 workforce.

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 Scotland.

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 pandemic.

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.