By Federico Lombardi
I was recently reading the words of a Russian thinker: “The simple relationship between people is the most important thing in the world!” It reminded me of a beautiful song full of joy from a few decades ago, launched by an amiable movement of young people that promoted friendship and fraternity among peoples: “Up with people!” Someone certainly remembers it. It spoke of the many people we meet every morning on our way to work; and said among other things: “If more people were for people/All people ev’rywhere/There’d be a lot less people to worry about/And a lot more people who care” – it inspired many wise and positive sentiments. I’ve thought about it many times in the last few years, walking down the street, meeting many people busy about their own affairs, almost closed in on themselves; and many others with wires coming out of their ears, who were completely focused on their cell phone screen or talking out loud into space with who knows whom, completely oblivious to the people standing just a few inches away from them on the bus. It seems to me that the instinct of looking at others kindly and attentively is becoming rarer. At the same time, the increasingly pervasive intrusion of new forms of communication into everyday life seems to have made others almost strangers to us.
After several weeks indoors I feel a great desire to meet different faces on the street again. I hope that sooner or later, in due course, this can happen without masks or plexiglass dividers, and I hope I can exchange a friendly word, or even just a sincere smile, with other people. Many of us in recent months have been pleasantly surprised with the possibilities offered by digital communication, and we hope to continue to make use of them in the future. But with the extension of the lockdown, we have realized that is not enough.
How will we come back the day after measures relax to greet one another on the street or on the metro? Will we be able to repopulate the common spaces of our cities with serenity? Or will we be conditioned by fear and suspicion? With the help of the hoped-for wisdom of scientists and world leaders, will we be able to balance reasonable prudence with the desire to rediscover and reweave that quality of daily living that - as we said at the beginning - “is the most important thing in the world”, the very fabric of human life? Will we realize (more or less than before?) that we are one human family walking together in the common home that is our one and only planet, Earth?
The pandemic has allowed us to experience a problematic aspect of globalization that we will all have to take into account in the future. Will we be able to rediscover the desire of fraternity among peoples beyond borders, the benevolent and curious welcome of diversity, the hope of living together in a peaceful world?
How will we experience our own bodies and how will we view others’ bodies? As possible contagious vectors, a risk to be guarded against at all costs? Or the expression of the soul of a sister or a brother? Because after all, that is what every human body is: the physical manifestation of a soul - unique, worthy, precious, a creature of God, the image of God... How wonderful is the timbre of the voice, the rhythm of the steps, especially the smile of those we love!... But beyond that, shouldn’t this apply to all the people we meet? So, will recovering freedom from the coronavirus help us to free ourselves from the other viruses of body and soul that prevent us from seeing and meeting the treasure that is in the soul of the other… or will we have become even more individualistic?
Digital technology can usefully mediate and accompany our relationships, but the mutual physical presence of persons, of their bodies as the transparency of their souls, their proximity in being in contact, remain the original starting and reference point of our experience and our journey. Jesus was not a virtual manifestation of God, but His Incarnation, precisely so that we could meet Him. And Jesus told us that He is present and awaits us in the other, in the poor (and who is not poor in some way, whether they realise it or not?). And He tells us that, in the face of the other, we can and must know how to recognize His.
What will our eyes be like, what will our heart be like, what will our smile be like when we return to walk the streets and cross the paths of so many people, who, even though seemingly unknown to us, have been missing us after all these months; and who, like us, have felt the desire to meet again on the daily crossroads of their lives, of our common world?