Pandemic is opportunity to create a ‘new normal’

No. 10 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Daring to peer through the current fog of uncertainty to imagine a “new normal” after the current coronavirus subsides was the theme of a recent webinar organised by Caritas Salford.

Reimagining Caritas – Love in action – in a post coronavirus society examined key themes related to Catholic social action, assisted by a panel including Bishop John Arnold of Salford and Mark Wiggin, director of Caritas Salford. Around 150 joined in on 29 April 2020.

Mark Wiggin felt the coronavirus “has highlighted the significant inequalities and vulnerabilities within our society” and “the social agencies of the Church will also need to evolve to respond to potentially growing needs”. He felt lockdown had galvanised the community to help the vulnerable survive and given the opportunity for reflection. Bishop Arnold called for a “new normal” as we all need to respond to the big social issues of our time.

Mike Kane, Catholic Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, believed that Caritas has an important role in organising and mobilising the domestic Church. He felt faith compels us to “build back better”. He spoke about lack of internet access among residents in his own parish, reinforcing social isolation and lack of access to public services and to internet Masses. Yet, Covid-19 had almost overnight tackled homelessness through the Government and local authorities using hotels and other accommodation to protect vulnerable people and take homeless people off the streets. This had highlighted what government can do when it wants and needs to. He said, “We now need to tackle Universal Credit and especially address the problem of the child benefit cap.’ He also felt too many of his constituents are burdened by debt and relying on payday loans.

Sir Peter Fahy, a trustee of the Diocese of Salford, Caritas Salford and Father Hudson’s Care, spoke in favour of local communities taking action themselves. He reported witnessing communities galvanised during lockdown as an example of how local people are best placed to know what their community needs.

“The Church has a lot to learn about utilising the talents of young people,” said Sr Judith Russi, a sister of Saint Mary of Namur and director of Catholic educational charity EducareM. She suggested, “the structure must change so that young people and young adults, who find it difficult to find a place at the table, can be part of the decision-making process”. She added that, “we just want you to come to Mass and don’t rock the boat, but let them rock the boat to show what they can do”.  She felt that now is the time to harness good will and generosity and recognise sacrifices that many are making, saying, “I hope that we don’t move out of this time, which we will soon, and just plod on”.

This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.