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The Pope Praises Medical Workers, Criticizes ‘Personal Freedom’ Protests

More Americans travelled Wednesday than on any other day in the last eight months — 1.1 million Americans — continuing the country’s long-standing annual tradition of gathering to give thanks.

The same week the Pope apparently felt compelled to publish an opinion piece in one of the country’s largest newspapers to share his own thoughts about the pandemic.

First, the Pope remembered life-saving medical procedures he’d had when he was 20 — including a wise nurse who’d doubled a dosage recommended by a doctor “because she knew from experience I was dying… Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.” And he also remembers another nurse who’d prescribed him extra painkillers for intense pain. “They taught me what it is to use science but also to know when to go beyond it to meet particular needs. And the serious illness I lived through taught me to depend on the goodness and wisdom of others. This theme of helping others has stayed with me these past months.”

Then he points out the great sacrifices made during the pandemic by doctors, nurses, and caregivers:
Whether or not they were conscious of it, their choice testified to a belief: that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call. That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe. They are the saints next door, who have awakened something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching. They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference…
He contrasts this with groups opposing government measures protecting the public health:
[S]ome groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything…

Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture that regards the well-being of the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled and the unborn as peripheral to our own well-being.

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.

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