By Vatican Neww
The Coronavirus pandemic is like the negative of a photograph. It is bringing social iniquity to the fore and is, therefore, manifesting lines of action.
Marie Dennis of Pax Christi International is convinced of this. Marie is an expert invited by Pope Francis to join the Covid-19 Commission which is working to imagining the Post-Covid world. This situation, she affirms, “has helped me to recognize the fragility of life, the centrality of relationships and the importance of community. Covid-19 is exposing the deep injustice and violence that leave too many people, communities and countries vastly more vulnerable than others”. And the Church, she sustains, with its social teaching “can help generate and evaluate ideas that can shape a more just and sustainable future.”
Q: This is especially true for young people who, in this scenario of tremendous instability, have been deprived of the right to an education.
Through the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, Pope Francis has offered inspirational leadership to our hurting world. His attention to the pandemic’s impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized in our societies has helped the world to see him as a pastor uniquely able to encourage and console.
At the same time, the multidimensional work of the Covid-19 Commission demonstrates the seriousness of his intention to probe the roots of the crisis we are now facing and to imagine a future that is more in harmony with the vision of Laudato Si’. In exploring the different dimensions of this crisis, I am increasingly struck by the urgent need for worldwide transformation – for ecological conversion and conversion to Gospel nonviolence.
Q: Pope Francis asked the Covid-19 Commission to prepare the future instead of prepare for it. What should be the role of the Catholic Church as an institution in this endeavor?
The Catholic Church has enormous convening power. The Covid-19 Commission is one example among many in recent years of times when critically important global issues, including nuclear disarmament, mining, migrants and refugees, cyber security, nonviolence and just peace and more, have been the subject of Vatican conferences and events. Able to bring together deep experience from different contexts around the world with excellent scientific research, socio-economic and environmental analysis, and Catholic social teaching, the Catholic Church can help generate and evaluate ideas that can shape a more just and sustainable future.
Q: What personal lessons (if any) have you derived from the experience of the pandemic? What concrete changes do you hope to see after this crisis both personally and globally?
The experience of the pandemic has helped me to recognize the fragility of life, the centrality of relationships and the importance of community. Covid-19 is exposing the deep injustice and violence that leave too many people, communities and countries vastly more vulnerable than others. After this crisis I hope for a major shift in national priorities, a decrease in spending for weapons and war and a major investment in healthcare, education and care for the earth. I believe that the seeds of nonviolence are being planted by all those responding in any helpful way to the suffering caused by Covid-19. These seeds, if nourished and carefully tended, may give rise to a globalization of solidarity rooted in nonviolence that will promote a just and sustainable peace.
Q: Preparing for the post-Covid world includes forming future generations, who will be forced to make decisions that forge new paths. In this sense, can education be considered only as a “cost” to reduce, even in times of crisis?
The future will be determined by the quality, methodology and content of the education we offer to younger generations and by society’s ability to cultivate the immense potential of a child from the earliest years. Respected educator Maria Montessori spoke about the task of the educator as nurturing in a child “moral courage,” a “sturdy conscience” and a sense of their own dignity and worth. Healthy families and local communities, human solidarity, world peace and survival of the planet will in many ways depend on our ability and willingness to invest in education that is rooted in love and results in a capacity for creative and critical thinking.
Q: Tens of millions of children around the world do not have access to education. Can article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be ignored, which affirms that everyone has the right to free and mandatory education, at least regarding elementary education?
No, article 26 cannot be ignored. Sustainable Development Goal 4 made clear the pressing need for quality education and the deep inequality of educational opportunity that exists within many countries and around the world. Covid-19 has exacerbated that inequality. As 1.6 billion children and youth were impacted by closing schools, it became evident that remote learning was out of reach for at least 500 million students and attention to the looming educational deficit was even more urgent.
Q: Educational budgets have undergone sometimes drastic cuts even in rich countries. Could there really be a desire not to invest in future generations?
At the same time, the world has spent trillions on weapons and preparations for war, stealing resources from providing for healthy, resilient, well-educated communities that can slow the spread of disease and more quickly recover from serious threats like the Covid-19 pandemic. Authentic security in which the whole earth community can thrive will emerge only from serious attention to meeting basic human needs, including education, on a global scale. Covid-19 has exposed deep social injustices, among them lack of access to high quality healthcare and education. Moving money from military spending to education seems an obvious way to invest in a just, peaceful and sustainable future.
Q: Though it finds itself in economic difficulty, the Catholic Church is on the front lines offering education to the poorest. As we’ve seen during this pandemic, lockdowns have had a considerable impact on Catholic schools. But the Church continues to welcome everyone, without distinctions based on creed, making space for encounter and dialogue. How important is this aspect?
The contribution of Catholic schools to peace and well-being in divided communities and countries overwhelmed by violence can be immense. The remarkable work of Dominican Sisters in Iraq to provide education for Christian and Muslim students is a beautiful example. Encounter and dialogue are very important. Especially valuable are those schools where the absolute integrity of every adult and respect for every student are known to be a way of life and where the curriculum includes a deep exploration of nonviolence as a way of life and an important tool for transforming conflict.
Q: What contribution can education about religion and religions offer young people, especially in a world increasingly driven by divisions and which fosters the engagement of fear and tension?
At Miriam College in the Philippines, through the Center for Peace Education and Pax Christi, Catholic students have built a long-term relationship with Muslim students in Davao. They have come to know each other as friends and to understand the common values of their different religious traditions. The students work together to promote just solutions to years of conflict in their country. The Center for Peace Education has been instrumental in spreading an interest in peace education throughout the Philippines.