Someday, when historians study the huge crisis triggered by the coronavirus, they will ask many questions they may already have some elements to answer. Amid the crisis, with Italy still in quarantine, we cannot but ask questions. They are neither few nor trivial. In fact, the coronavirus has revealed a long series of contradictions and shortcomings of our world, which lay out of sight, buried by the prevailing optimism. Now, to take advantage of the extra time at our disposal is perhaps appropriate to raise them and try to draw some lessons from them.
The fragility of the modern world. It is truly astonishing how such a small, indeed microscopic, being has been able to bring a world that boasted of being solid, powerful, and enduring to its knees. The economy is in tilt, the stock market is crashing, shops are closed, flights canceled, streets deserted, events postponed, sports suspended, borders closed. We thought this could have happened because of a world war or an extraordinary natural disaster. Not so. A being just a few microns in size was enough to upset our whole life, shattering the myth of the solidity of our world.
If we want to listen to the signs of the times, this contains a first great lesson.
When Our Lady spoke in Fatima of a series of scourges for sinful humanity followed by a general conversion and consequent restoration of Christian civilization, many did not listen to her words not so much due to some doctrinal objection but rather because of the conviction – more empirical that intellectual – that this world would last forever and that, therefore, they could continue to enjoy it undisturbed. However, the coronavirus crisis teaches us that things can change, and very quickly. We cannot take anything for granted. This state of affairs is not eternal. Everything can vanish; only God remains.
The Chinese parable: from criminal to heroin. Over the next few years, historians will struggle to explain how China managed to implement a propaganda campaign that would transform it from criminal to hero in a few weeks. The epidemic began precisely in China, and spread thanks to the extreme neglect and arrogance of the communist government of Beijing. The first sign was the hospitalization for bronchitis of Wei Gixan, a fishmonger in the Wuhan market, on December 10, 2019. On December 15, Dr. Li Wenliang was the first to raise the alarm: an epidemic was going on. This was so glaring that on January 7, 2020, The Wall Street Journal even published an extensive report on the subject. The Beijing government reacted by expelling American journalists and forcing Dr. Wenliang to sign a self-accusatory document, prohibiting any disclosure of information in this regard under very severe penalties. Only on January 20, with the epidemic out of control, did President Xi Jinping make a public statement. And he decreed the state of emergency only on the 23rd.
Had China reacted promptly in mid-December, most likely, there would have been no such crisis. Here is the real responsible party. However, two intertwined questions arise: Why has China acted in this way? And why don’t they want to point a finger at it?
The answer to the first question is, of course, the totalitarian mentality proper to communism. Its chieftains react by keeping secret anything that may affect the image of the regime—precisely as happened with the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000. But that does not explain everything.
It is also obvious that they did not want to curb the Chinese economy, on which half the world now depends. They preferred to leave the Chinese locomotive running even at the risk of causing a pandemic. Therefore, to the faults of the communist mentality one should also add others of a certain capitalist mentality. And here is the answer to the second question: the Chinese should not be touched because they have the knife by the handle.
One of the great enigmas of our time – a true mystery of iniquity – is how the West, which prides itself on its democratic and free market prowess, has submitted to a dictatorial government dominated by a Communist Party in such a servile way. To make money, the West has consciously and voluntarily placed its head in the guillotine. Is it any wonder if the executioner now pulls the lever?
Masters in shadowy operations, the Chinese have also taken advantage of the crisis by acquiring an even more dominant position in the market. In fact, the crisis has brought down the shares of many western companies operating in China. The Beijing Central Bank took advantage to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in securities, becoming the partner of reference for many western companies. All under the indifferent or complicit gaze of Western financial gurus.
There is more. In a coup worthy of a third-rate comedy, China now presents itself as the savior of the world. Everyone is praising the “Chinese model.” Beijing even allows itself the luxury of giving Italy sanitary materials needed to face the viral crisis…that it caused! What an amazing parable: from criminal to hero in a few weeks!
Will not the coronavirus crisis be an historic opportunity to review our whole attitude towards Beijing? There is still time. Let us react before it is too late!
When shepherds abandon the flock. However, the most excruciating question concerns the attitude of a large part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which has bowed to the requirements of the Conte Government. In an article in the Corriere della Sera, Andrea Riccardi reports, “A tight negotiation started between CEI [the Italian Bishops’ Conference] and Palazzo Chigi, which remained inflexible by order of its experts. After some arm wrestling, the bishops gave way.” While Riccardi seems to imply that CEI surrendered reluctantly, the speed and surprising dynamism with which our bishops applied the government-issued health provisions, sometimes anticipating them and applying them in an exaggerated and even unilateral way, make us think of other reasons.
In two thousand years of history, the Church in Italy has faced many epidemics, from the plague of Rome in 590 to those of Milan in 1578 and 1630. Invariably, the Bride of Christ reacted with a supernatural spirit, remaining close to the faithful, encouraging them in prayer and penance, multiplying opportunities for them to receive the sacraments. Great saints like Saint Charles Borromeo, who returned to Milan from Lodi while the civil authorities ran away, and Saint Louis Gonzaga, who chose to stay with the sick in the Roman College and paid for that heroic gesture with his life, are good examples. If anything, the predominant note of the Church during plagues was precisely to reinvigorate the care of souls.
This is the first time in history in which – with a few honorable exceptions – the hierarchy has abandoned the faithful, depriving them of spiritual support, first, by imposing Communion in the hand and eliminating holy water fonts; then, by suppressing Masses and every religious ceremony, including funerals. However, if the health norm is for the faithful to keep a distance of one meter and not touch each other, why not celebrate Masses with them scattered along the aisles of the church? Could one not say many Masses so the faithful could rotate during the day? Could one not say Masses in the public square with the faithful quietly arranged outdoors with the necessary safety distances? None of this seems to have been taken into consideration. Instead, they chose to deprive the faithful of the sacraments just as they needed them most.
In the above-cited article, Riccardi makes this point: “It is right to avoid crowded funerals. But one does not understand why worship and prayers are forbidden if celebrated in safety. Perhaps not all decision-makers understand the special meaning of the Mass for believers, of whom the ancient martyrs said: ‘Sine Dominicum non possumus.’” This time it was the Church that gave way across the board, as Fabio Adernò rightly points out in an article on the blog of Vatican expert Marco Tosati: “The Church has always suffered the limitations on worship that history’s changing events imposed on Christians in certain contingencies Christians as being persecution and martyrdom; she has never deliberately chosen [such limitations] with a relativistic or compliant attitude.” Put simply, what the enemies of the Church used to do, now the hierarchy itself are doing.
One certainly cannot require Caesar to understand the ways of God. However, one can and must require the bishops to assert the superior ways of God instead of bowing so servilely before Caesar.
One last point: Leaving aside whether or not this pandemic can be interpreted as a divine punishment, the obvious fact remains that it would be an excellent opportunity for preaching, especially since we are in the period of Lent when we should focus our attention on the terrible but redemptive suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems clear that the epidemic has shaken many consciences, usually bent on the desire to enjoy life, opening them to transcendental considerations and offering opportunities for a purifying intervention of divine grace. Here too, however, the silence of the hierarchy has something tragic. Without judging intentions, it is difficult not to see a lack of supernatural spirit that is truly worrying. They are silent when they should speak the most.
So here are a few questions – mostly still unanswered – about the situation caused by the spread of this strange creature no bigger than 50 thousandths of a millimeter, and which nevertheless is shaken our life to its foundations.
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