Protecting Our Health, Healing Our Earth

Protecting Our Health, Healing Our Earth

The author reflects on the impact of the coronavirus on human life and on the care of the planet, during and after this crisis.

Our health is facing an untraceable enemy, destroying our humanity, the total global death toll lately is: 275,000 dead. These are not numbers, they are persons. The infections of the coronavirus become more dangerous, as did not only inflict harm on our health, but also, the COVID-19 crisis is threatening social cohesion within countries, as its impact reaches deep into our society, on the behaviour of individuals, and affects our well-being and mental health.” (United Nations, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, March 2020, p. 11)

The beauty of nature is transforming, we are re-discovering the original creation; even more blooming, as in the book of Psalms (104:9-13):

“You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.”

But our spirits long for holistic care; allowing us to search for a better life, a better future, and a healthy planet.

This global pandemic of the coronavirus affects everyone, revealing directly on sight:

  1. the fragility of our humanity, both our health and psychological well-being.
  2. the fragility of our government systems.
  3. the fragility of our health systems.

We need better lenses to understand the current health crisis, as part of our journey to recovery, these are the essential points for reflection:

  • our health is part of the creative process of life that needs to be protected.
  • our environment is the revelation of Creation.
  • our life ought to be meaningfully lived.

Protecting Our Health

Protection and recovery of life is very important in our survival. Protecting people’s health is one of the prime duties of any government. Our governments made laws for this, even crafted and revised many “systems”, like, health security, universal health care, and many other forms. But in the end, proven by this current pandemic, it all appeared that our governments failed; and yet, many of our doctors and front-liners complained: our hospitals are not well-equipped for address the pandemic. Now, governments are pressured to address the basic problems in health centers, like, the lack of hospital beds, lack of equipment (respirators, etc), and protection of health workers. Pope Francis said in Laudato Si’: “…no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.” (LS, 21)

And during this COVID crisis, the call for “mass testing” are amplified as basic assessment of proof for medical recovery. Until a vaccine for COVID-19 virus is discovered, there will be no assurance of recovery and healing. Medical and technological research and innovation is needed to accelerate the production of key medical materials and tests, and to discover the vaccines and therapeutic treatments that are needed to protect people’s right to health.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 20)

Accountability of governments are being pursued of the deadly impact of the crisis, the number of deaths and infections; the corollary impact of the lockdown on people’s lives; the system of approach (from warning to recovery).

Protection of health encompasses protection of nature. Many of the deadly viruses were acquired (and related to) abuse of our wild/exotic animals. Nature must not be human-centered, it is totally of life, of all living organisms. For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” (Pope Francis, LS, 8)

In the perspective of faith, all that God has created is good and beautiful. “Each single created thing is good, and taken as a whole they are very good, because together they constitute a universe of admirable beauty.” (St. Augustine, Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love,  Part I, III, 10). We are all part of God’s creative process, all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” (Pope Francis, LS 14)

Healing Our Earth

Our planet Earth takes a breather from the years of massive destruction. During the period of lockdown all over the globe, nature becomes poetic, in the words of a poet: “now the birds are chirping, flowers bloom; for the spring is rising, breaking nature’s gloom…” The social media posts and news reports, acknowledged the end of daily pollution from cars and industries; the re-appearance of the displaced species both land and life below water. Wild animals are appearing in the urban areas, a report in the The Guardian online news said: “Animals have started taking advantage of cities as they enter lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. From New Delhi, India to Buenos Aires, Argentina, groups of animals including deer and lemurs have started to come out to explore – in search of food or just to play…” (theguardian.com, April 22, 2020)

In the Philippines, the residents of Metro Manila, were able to see the mountains as backdrop of the skyscrapers, unseen for many years due to pollution. But the call for climate emergency remains, and Pope Francis issued a warning: “The earth does not forgive: if we have despoiled the earth, its response will be very ugly.” (Earth Day Message, April 22, 2020) More than the appearance, is a conscience-space for us to ask ourselves: this outcome from what we have seen in nature resulting from the COVID crisis is an opportunity to effectively implement existing laws protecting nature from human-induced destruction driven by greed and insensitivity. Yes, we are able to re-create an ambiance nature-friendly for us, but not totally for nature. Simply because, during this lockdown, more wastes are still generated from our consumption, unending environmental destruction are being done on nature and communities, governments continue to approve and endorse mining permits and all other issues. “The pandemic of the coronavirus reveals to us that the way we live in the common house is harmful to its nature. The lesson that you convey to us is: it is imperative to reform our way of living on it, as a living planet. She is warning us that we are just as we are behaving, we can’t continue. Otherwise the Earth itself will be rid of us, overly aggressive and evil to the system of life.” (Leonardo Boff)

Integral Healing thru Solidarity

In his Earth Day message, Pope Francis said: “As the tragic coronavirus pandemic has taught us, we can overcome global challenges only by showing solidarity with one another and embracing the most vulnerable in our midst.” (April 22, 2020)

The lockdown brought us better realizations of life. All activities that require presence, any social event or even church and work related gatherings are suspended; and we are advised to stay in our homes to avoid the spread of the virus –still, we belong to one community.

Going to school is not allowed, but remedies are being done by requiring virtual or online presence of students. Working from home is the new normal, allowing the working people to still do jobs without being in the office.

And yet, many churches inspired by the ‘reaching out’ of Pope Francis thru online presence. Parishes, religious communities are doing virtual/TV liturgical celebrations, even the other religions are doing their part as an act of spiritual assurance to all believers facing the crisis. Much concern and assistance are being given to the grieving families too, which in reality, the contagion did not allow families to celebrate farewells according to the usual customs of burial.

“At dusk weeping comes for the night; but at dawn there is rejoicing.” (Psalms 30:6)

Commitment to Just Recovery. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis is incalculable at this moment, we are facing not only an economic crisis but  also a global humanitarian crisis. Governments are pursuing economic recovery as the best tool to be able to address the aftermath of the pandemic, seeing the many political pendulum-movement of opinions, both economic and health solutions must be addressed integrally. Governments must be reminded that the health of the population cannot be compromised by any other political intentions. The protection and recovery of life is very important. “Between lives lost, and dollars gain… we need to save lives!” said Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York during one of his COVID-19 briefings.

Commitment to amplify the call for a better Health System. The global health systems must be fixed. The many discoveries of hospitals (mostly in big countries) having no adequate medical equipment is a revelation of utter disregard of health care. Cardinal Antonio Tagle of Caritas Internationalis said: “now we realize that we don’t have enough masks but there are more than enough bullets.”

A better health system will address future health crisis, it will totally guarantee a livable future for humanity, it will purposely maximize the funds contributed by the people to the state and will enable the governments to save lives. Many corporations have been helping to shore up the health system response. Pharmaceutical companies are working with governments to increase testing capability, while manufacturers are offering to shift or add new production lines to manufacture masks and ventilators. Tech companies are providing crucial digital tools to overcome social isolation, promote social cohesion and raise awareness on health and safety guidelines to address the pandemic.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 6)

Commitment to Provide Sustainable Assistance. We should not forget the poor, the most vulnerable in our midst. As many of them are living in unjust conditions even before this global crisis, the more they are pushed to survival. The incapacities of governments are replaced by the high-spirited initiatives of individuals. In Sierra Leone, Africa, religious missionaries try to assist the families by providing one sack of rice to every family and food pack; “we need to give them food sustenance that can last for a longer period; allowing them to be participative in the lockdown and not letting them go hungry. All else, as there is hunger, there will be chaos,” said Fr. Denis Castillo, OAR, a Filipino missionary.

Globally, local churches, NGO’s are mobilizing campaigns to address the glooming situation of the people, by providing sustained food assistance to livelihood. Civil Society and grassroots organizations, community Based Organizations (CBOs) and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) play a vital role at the local level. In assisting the most vulnerable populations, these groups are active in bringing economic and livelihood opportunities and adapting responses to the community context.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 20)

Commitment to address continuing social injustices. Many social issues are cropping up in this period of uncertainty. Pope Francis reminded us in his 2020 Urbi et Orbi message: The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people. May the Lord of life be close to all those in Asia and Africa who are experiencing grave humanitarian crises, as in the Province of Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique. May he warm the hearts of the many refugees displaced because of wars, drought and famine. May he grant protection to migrants and refugees, many of them children, who are living in unbearable conditions, especially in Libya and on the border between Greece and Turkey. And I do not want to forget the island of Lesvos. To achieve concrete and immediate solutions in Venezuela, aimed at facilitating international aid to the people suffering from the serious political, socio-economic and health situation.”

Very revealing is the impact of the crisis on the labor sector, the number runs in millions of workers to be jobless and out of work; this will have a disastrous impact on the many families. Countries must commit to do their utmost to protect the labour force, including workers who depend entirely on daily earnings and those in the informal sector and support their employment and income. This must be the goal of all coordinated fiscal and monetary actions.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 14)

Each of us has a role to play, and institutions too. Coping with the crisis from now and the coming years, will be very difficult.

Commitment to re-invigorate our co-existence with Nature. We are finding healing thru nature, we are sustained by nature thru the fruitful harvests from nature, without nature –we can hardly live during this crisis.  “Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness… the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.” (Pope Francis, LS, 36)

The continuity of life is possible. Our concern for nature is beyond the pandemic, hopefully this is teaching us doable lessons well. That we cannot go back to our systemic pattern of destroying our Earth; our throw-away culture must end; our human-centered dominion must change; our activism for nature must be emboldened better. And when we get past this crisis, we will face a choice – go back to the world we knew before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to this and future crises. Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal and inclusive societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other challenges we face.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 22)

We have no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us.” (Pope Francis, April 22, 2020)

Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

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