COVID-19: Is poverty the real pandemic?

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COVID-19: Is poverty the real pandemic?
Pope Francis and the call to help the poor

According to Pope Francis, the real pandemic – rather than COVID-19 – is indifference towards the poor. Therefore, he has encouraged countries and individuals to take action in order to help those in need. Besides that, the Catholic Church and the Vatican have contributed themselves, by making major donations to several organisations. But what concrete actions to combat poverty is the pope suggesting?

Pope Francis and the call to help the poor
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis has stated several times that the real pandemic is the indifference humanity has towards the poor, calling poverty “a social pandemic.”[1] [2] He has also argued that the pandemic is an opportunity to remove inequalities and to “prepare everyone’s tomorrow, without biased interests.”[3]  What concrete actions is the pope suggesting?

Europe to the rescue
First, Pope Francis has asked European countries to help out. In April 2020, he sent a message in which he stated to be concerned that the coronavirus emergency would mostly hit the poor. Therefore, the pope asked for the consideration of a possible ‘universal basic wage’ that would ensure rights for all workers.[4]

Additionally – again in April 2020 – Pope Francis spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the cancelation of the debts of the poorest countries.[5] As a result of this conversation, Macron announced the possibility of canceling the debt of African countries to assist them in their fight against Covid-19.[6]A week after his phone call with Macron, Pope Francis spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A key topic of their conversation was the economic crisis caused by Covid-19. The pope stressed the importance of solidarity and cohesion in Europe and in the world, and the duty and need to help the poor were underlined in the phone call. This would involve both sending aid to Africa and reducing foreign debt for third world nations.[7]

The pope and Vatican are combating poverty
Already at the beginning of the pandemic, the pope showed his concerns regarding the situation of the poor and donated 100,000 dollars to the diocese of Hong Kong. With this money, the diocese could help those who were hit by coronavirus.[8]As coronavirus spread throughout the world, Pope Francis continued making donations to the poorest of society. At the beginning of April, for instance, he donated 20,000 euros to the migrant reception centre in Pistoia, Italy.[9] In addition, in May, the Episcopal Conference of Italy allocated 10 million euros to the dioceses of the Italian red areas, that is, the areas that were hit the hardest by Covid-19.[10]  A month later, Pope Francis started two other initiatives to alleviate poverty caused by Covid-19. First, he auctioned his bicycle and promised to donate the proceeds from the sale to the hospitals of Brescia and Bergamo, Italy.[11] Second, the pope established an agreement between the Vatican, the Lazio Region, and the Municipality of Rome that led to the ‘Alliance for Rome’, aimed at supporting Romans who lost their jobs due to Covid-19. The goal of the project, according to the Vatican, is to restore dignity and hope to people.[12]

Individuals should contribute
Regarding individuals, the pope is mostly asking for awareness of the problem of poverty, solidarity, and small gestures to relieve the sufferings of those in need. For instance, during a morning homily in March, Pope Francis urged faithful not to forget about immigrants and the poor, even during the Covid-19 crisis.[13]Moreover, in May, he referred to messages received by workers stating that they are often harshly exploited in the Italian countryside. On this occasion, the pope asked faithful to treat people with dignity, despite the fact that we are all undergoing a difficult situation due to coronavirus.[14]

Collaborate to counter poverty
Pope Francis has asked European governments to make significant contributions to help the poor. They are encouraged to cancel country debts and to establish a universal basic wage. In addition, the Vatican and pope have also provided help themselves by making several donations. Finally, individuals are urged to make their personal difference to the situation of those in need. In order to solve the problem of poverty caused by Covid-19, however, the Church, states, and each one of us may have to join forces and collaborate to a much greater extent.

Ghila Amati

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[1] Coronavirus, Papa: “Il conto più pesante della pandemia lo pagano poveri e senzatetto”
[2] È una “pandemia sociale”: il Papa prega per le famiglie senza lavoro vittime degli usurai
[3] Papa: “Pandemia ci scuota. Opportunità per preparare domani di tutti, no a interessi di parte”
[4] Il Papa scrive ai movimenti popolari: un salario universale per gli esclusi
[5] La telefonata. Il Papa e Macron: annullare il debito dei Paesi più poveri
[6] French President announces possibility of debt cancellation for African
[7] Coronavirus, telefonata tra il Papa e la cancelliera tedesca Merkel: “Aiutare i Paesi più poveri”
[8] Coronavirus Covid-19: Papa Francesco dona 100mila dollari ai poveri e alle famiglie in difficoltà di Hong Kong
[9] Vicofaro, l’elemosiniere del Papa invia 20mila euro al centro di accoglienza migranti di don Biancalani: “Per il servizio ai poveri”
[10] Cei, 10 milioni per diocesi zone rosse
[11] La bici del Papa all’asta per gli ospedali di Brescia e Bergamo
[12] Nasce Alleanza per Roma,aiuto ai fragili; Covid. Il Papa istituisce un Fondo per la dignità del lavoro a Roma. E dona un milione
[13] Coronavirus, il Papa: “Non dimenticare poveri e migranti”
14] Papa Francesco accoglie l’appello dei migranti: “Dare dignità al lavoro”