Covid: peace cannot become a reality on an empty stomach
History teaches that global recessions have provoked riots among those who are hungry. The risk that the same thing will occur due to the current pandemic worries many who are observing the international situation.
Maryann Cusimano Love, a professor at the Catholic University of America and one of seven experts invited by the Pope to be a member of the Vatican Covid-19 commission, is looking at the more vulnerable areas of the world. The coronavirus, she says, has created worse conditions for more vulnerable populations and the risk is that the situation created by misery and precarious access to healthcare will cause things to explode.
"To avert that this time around, food assistance must be given across conflict lines", she maintains, calling on the Church as an agent of universal peace. "We are all one human family, but too often we act like a dysfunctional family". The Church, she says, can help construct a world "in which we are more connected, more caring".
You are part of the Vatican COVID 19 Commission, Pope Francis’s response mechanism to an unprecedented virus. What do you personally hope to learn from this experience? In what way do you think the Commission’s work can inspire society as a whole?
R. – Global problems require global cooperation. We have more people on the planet than ever before in human history, so we must create better forms of cooperation than ever before, to meet crises like the pandemic. Pope Francis’ Covid 19 Commission is a model of cooperation and inclusion across borders, at a time when many around the world are going in the opposite direction, closing borders and not prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable.
Pope Francis asked the COVID 19 Commission to prepare the future instead of prepare for it. What should be the Catholic Church’s role as an institution in this endeavour?
R. – The Catholic Church can help us imagine and build a better world coming out of this pandemic, one in which we are more connected, more caring, in better relationship with each other, the planet, the poor, and God. As Scripture says, “See, I am doing something new in you, can you not see it?” The Catholic Church is not a national church; we work across borders in every country, we work with very long timelines that go beyond the next headline or election; and we are the world’s largest private provider of health care, caring for the world’s neediest. We are all one human family, but too often we act like a dysfunctional family; against a rising tide of nationalism and extremism, the Church imagines and prepares a future based on a wider view of our connections as human family.
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?
R. – Pope Francis warned us that “this economy kills,” and the pandemic showed this to be true; we cannot go back to the old ways of doing business. For example, we can stop investing over a trillion dollars in new nuclear weapons, when money is urgently needed for health and food. The pandemic has shorn away the non-essential, and forced our focus to what really matters, the sanctity of life, our families, our common home. With my children schooling at home while I’m teleworking at home and caring for elders, we spend more family time together, and in nature. Nature has rebounded in the pandemic, showing us it is never too late to do the right thing. Our economies and workplaces can and must promote healthier, richer relationships with each other and our earth.
Inequalities are enormous. Take, for example, access to healthcare in various countries across the globe. Does the hypothesis of a vaccine that is not accessible to everyone entail the risk of conflict?
R. – Yes, disease can cause war and conflict. Research shows that countries caught in “the conflict trap,” cycles of conflict and revenge, need economic growth to break out of spirals of violence, but instead the pandemic has done the opposite, tanked the global economy. For conflict countries who depend on oil income, like Nigeria, Iraq, and others, these countries now have no budgets to build peace among warring groups, to implement peace accords in Colombia, or buy back guns or offer jobs to armed actors to integrate them into civilian life. Peace doesn’t magically occur; it is built over time by patient effort. But the pandemic disrupts peacebuilding resources and efforts, and has increased violent nationalist and extremist movements, as Covid disinformation and conspiracy theories targets scapegoats. The Catholic Church is not a nationalist church; Catholic peacebuilding is needed now more than ever.
Regarding those who today suffer from hunger: how willing are they to fight for access to healthcare? In various African countries, people say they prefer Covid to hunger. Could the combination of the two, pandemic and hunger, be a dangerous spark?
R. – You can't build peace on an empty stomach. The pandemic has disrupted global food supplies and caused an economic depression making food too expensive for millions, further endangering the world's most vulnerable people, refugees and displaced people. Previous global recessions caused food riots; to avert that this time around, food assistance must be given across conflict lines, to help reduce the chances for violence. Glaring inequalities worsen grievance and violence.
Pope Francis and Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN, have launched a ceasefire appeal wherever there are conflicts in the world, in order to foster the fight against the coronavirus. Why have these appeals not been heeded?
R. – As the United Nations meets in New York in September, Pope Francis and Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN are renewing calls for a global ceasefire so communities can focus efforts on fighting the pandemic, not each other. There has been too little attention, public awareness, and government leadership on the ceasefire. The upcoming 75th anniversary of the United Nations is a great opportunity to draw more attention and commitment to the call for a pandemic ceasefire.
Several times, even well before the pandemic, Pope Francis has often spoken of a “third world war fought piecemeal”. So, in your opinion, should we fear another worldwide conflict provoked by an invisible virus, or has one already effectively begun that we should be dedicating ourselves to extinguishing?
R. – Peace has been breaking out in recent decades, with declines in major wars and peace accords in places like Ireland, Colombia and the Philippines. But these peace processes are fragile, and too many countries remain trapped in cycles of war, poverty, and instability, such as Iraq, DRC, Sudan, and Nigeria. Pandemic responses must be conflict sensitive, ensuring that vaccines, medicine, food aid, and assistance be given across the conflict lines, in ways that build community, social cohesion, trust, and peace.