Coronavirus and creation: Bringing lessons learned into prayer, action
Coronavirus and creation: Bringing lessons learned into prayer, action

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — During the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns in Europe and North America, city-dwellers — including Pope Francis — were struck by the hush on the streets, the blueness of the skies and the songs of birds.

The experience gives added meaning to the theme of the 2020 celebration of the Season of Creation, “Jubilee for the Earth: New Rhythms, New Hope.”

The Season of Creation begins Sept. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, an observance initiated by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1989 and adopted by Pope Francis for the Catholic Church in 2015. The season runs through Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The theme, “Jubilee for the Earth,” refers to the biblical jubilee years in Leviticus 25 — a sacred time every 50 years for renewing one’s relationship with God, restoring justice to individuals and letting the land recuperate.

Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, an official at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the theme was chosen by an ecumenical organizing group before the COVID-19 pandemic began. They wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day April 22.

But, “the theme has become so relevant in the context of lockdown, and the pandemic is still raging across the world,” he said. While the lockdown had a hugely negative impact on the poor, who could not work from home, it “gave us a taste of an environment with much less pollution, the skies were clear, the dolphins came back” to the waters off of Italy.

The “small gap” of the lockdown, he said, showed that, if given a chance, “nature can flourish again.”

In a joint letter urging Christians to mark the celebrations, the ecumenical Conference of European Churches and the Catholic Council of European Bishops’ Conferences said the biblical call to a jubilee “underlines that there must exist a just and sustainable balance between social, economic and ecological realities.”

“The lesson from the biblical concept of jubilee points us toward the need to restore balance in the very systems of life, affirming the need for equality, justice and sustainability and confirming the need for a prophetic voice in defense of our common home,” said the letter released Aug. 25.

Celia Deane-Drummond, director of the Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall at England’s Oxford University, said a jubilee implies rest for the land — by, for example, letting a field lie fallow for a year — and rest for human beings, especially those enslaved by others, but also those who feel driven to work almost 24/7 for earnings or status.

“That’s what integral ecology is all about it; bringing together the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor means not focusing on one or the other but both at the same time,” she told Catholic News Service Aug. 25. “Trying to get a balance between those aspects is sometimes quite challenging, but a jubilee is sort of like, ‘Let’s stop and listen and think about how we need to do things differently.’”

The professor, who has doctoral degrees in both biology and theology, said she thinks there are things people learned during the lockdown that will endure. For example, she expects online meetings to continue to replace many international conferences, reducing the carbon footprints of people who fly all over the world for meetings. Also, she said, many people will continue to enjoy beauty they discovered in their own neighborhoods and the joys of walking, hiking or running near home.

But another important aspect of a jubilee is forgiveness, she said. “The tendency is to put too much emphasis on blaming people for the crisis we’re in and not enough on the mercy of God and forgiveness and the possibility of starting again or of doing things differently.”

“I would always want to go back and say, ‘Well it’s not too late’” if an individual or business owner takes responsibility for harming the environment and truly changes, which is different from “green washing,” the practice of marketing a company as environmentally friendly when it is not.

Pope Francis’ call to “listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet” has been consistent since the publication five years ago of his ecological encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

But that call has been more insistent during the coronavirus pandemic.

At his weekly general audience Aug. 19, Pope Francis defined as a “scandal” government pandemic assistance to companies that “do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation.”

“Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste,” Pope Francis said during a special prayer service in an empty, rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square in March.

People did not “listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet,” he said. “We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.”

Father Kureethadam said invoking a jubilee and encouraging prayer is a holistic approach to environmental concern; it includes asking forgiveness of God and of one another.

“Our real hope and prayer is that it will allow us to renew humanity, renew solidarity, renew ourselves in our relationship with God and with one another and the environment,” he said.

Marking the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’ in May, the pope published a prayer that asked God to “enable us to succeed in listening and responding to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. May their current sufferings become the birth-pangs of a more fraternal and sustainable world.”

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Europe must clarify position in global economy, Orbán says in Bled
Europe must clarify position in global economy, Orbán says in Bled
 MTI – Econews

 Monday, August 31, 2020, 13:55

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Europe must clarify its position in the global economy and the related consequences during a panel discussion with other prime ministers from the region at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia on Monday, according to a report by state news wire MTI.

Europe must clarify position in global economy, Orbán says in Bled
Image by Alexandros Michailidis/

Orbán said Europe is “in trouble” as “we havenʼt identified our new position in the global economy”.

He said Europe is no longer a “game-changer”, as are China and the United States, and needs to “clarify” its position and the consequences.

He explained that the “science center” of the modern economy is “related very much to the armies”, and because there is no European army, “we donʼt have the scientific center to be at the forefront of technological advancement”.

Orbán said a common military capacity, enlargement, and a competitive economy, with Central Europe as an engine of growth, are key to Europeʼs strategy for the future.

“Without enlarging the European Union and accepting Serbia as a full member we cannot complete the security architecture of Europe,” he argued.

Addressing questions on concerns over the state of democracy in Hungary, Orbán insisted that Hungaryʼs democracy is of the same quality as those of Germanyʼs or Italyʼs.

“The problem is not the member states and the political systems…the problem is that we donʼt have strong common policies on the three major areas: global competition, good economies, and security enlargement,” he said.

He said a “kind of fight for intellectual sovereignty” is going on in Hungary today, more so than in other countries.

“We are fighting for the sovereignty to have a Christian and democratic approach to the European institutions and politics as such,” he said.

He acknowledged that liberal and conservative political philosophies had been unified in their fight against the totalitarian regime but stressed that the two philosophies are distinct.

“We would like to get back to the age, intellectually, when we can dispute clearly the main values, like family, nation, cultural tradition, religion, migration…We would like to have not just one single concept which must be accepted by everybody, because we donʼt have a liberal concept [for] that, we have a Christian democratic concept [for] all these issues,” he said.

Saving Islam in France from political and ghettoised Islam
Saving Islam in France from political and ghettoised Islam
For purely electoral reasons, in the last municipal ballot, various parties of the right- wing, left-wing and even ecologists had radical Muslim candidates. For the imam of Nimes, vice-president of the French imams this is a danger for France and Europe: in the name of an impoverished local politics, political and combative Islam is valued, which does not seek coexistence, but to Islamize the continent, often with the help of Qatar and Turkey.
Paris (AsiaNews) – Several weeks after the municipal elections (15 March-28 June 2020) the question of Muslim “communitarianism[i]” still occupies minds.

The circumstantial electoral alliance between some republican political forces and representatives of a communitarian Islam that took place during these elections is increasingly disturbing.

By placing these self-styled protagonists, who consider themselves the only true representatives of the Muslims of France, in the forefront, our Republic is committing a grave mistake.

In this way, the Republic sells off its founding values, and risks retreating in the face of an aggressive political Islam which does not recognize itself in these values, and which has never wanted to abandon its socio-religious battle. This battle mixes issues such as unemployment and marginalization with religion, as well as all the delicate questions of the identity of French Muslims and their place in the national community.

The majority of these movements adopt an aggressive and confrontational strategy, and not a democratic and consensual one.

The main victims of these unnatural alliances risk being the indispensable and ineluctable reform movement of French Islam and the advance of the Enlightenment.

Between 2015 and 2019, in an immoral and illegal way, many French reformist imams were excluded from their posts as spiritual guides in certain mosques, from chaplaincies and from various charitable associations. The reason: their clear and strong condemnation of the Islamist terrorist attacks, their republican and humanist positions against hatred, separatism and radicalism.

For the republican imams, Muslim thought is reformable and evolutionary. The spiritual foundations of Islam are constant and immutable. But the Muslim elite must abandon the peremptory medieval fatwas, as well as undemocratic totalitarian methods, which impose conflicting and violent interpretations of Islamic religious texts.

The practice of a peaceful religious experience, more serene, human and above all compatible with modernity and contemporary humanistic values ​​needs a courageous adaptation of Islam with European values ​​and specificities. This will avoid an obligatory conflict, wanted and hoped for by Islamists who do not hide their intentions to Islamize Europe, without realizing that their suicidal strategy will lead to the end of Islam in Europe. European Muslims must in no way accept being held hostage in the hands of political Islam directed and financed by Qatar or Turkey. An independent and non-dominant European Islam may be able to adapt to local culture. Any foreign dependence means that Islam could become the cause of a serious and dangerous conflict that threatens social peace in a tolerant and welcoming continent, which for many decades has given so much to Islam and Muslims.

Unfortunately, republican Islam is set to enter a dark and more difficult period precisely because of that circumstantial Islamic-political alliance that emerged during the elections. Political Islam, strengthened by this opportunist alliance, will not fail to designate the republican Muslims and the leaders of these movements as the first victims, so as to bury any hope of adapting the Islam of France to the values ​​of the republic and to the social and cultural characteristics of our democratic societies, values ​​that have endured for centuries.

The humanist imams wept in communion with all the French people for the innocent souls who fell in the Islamist attacks of the Bataclan, of the Hyper Cacher, in Toulouse, in Brussels, in Nice. Now they risk being totally marginalized and disappearing, themselves victims of this storm.

The medium-term result of these alliances will tomorrow’s society increasingly move towards its radicalization, in which the majority of French Muslims, who reject this drift, will be increasingly isolated from the population.

This isolation, sown with hatred and violence, is the goal that the extremists hope for, the fertile ground in which to extend their project on their co-religionists. Stupidly, they dream in the short term of Islamizing French and Western society in its entirety, without realizing that this dominating and suicidal strategy, will mark the end of a peaceful and integrated Islam in France.

In his work “Territoires conquis de Islamisme [Territories conquered by Islamism]”, Bernard Rougier described what awaits us after these municipal elections, despite the efforts of ministers Castaner, Nunez and Belliubet to fight what, in his speech in Mulhouse, President Emmanuel Macron called “Islamist separatism”.

These municipal elections have made clear everywhere in France, the actions carried out by Islamists to seduce Muslim voters, thanks to the presence of Muslim candidates for some parties, who openly competed as Muslims. They are a part of the right-wing, of the ecologists and even of some of the republican right, all looking for voters who could ensure victory.

Instead of presenting themselves as citizens, French Muslims find themselves again taken hostage by conquering Islamism, which exploits the weakness of politicians, as well as the silence of the majority of Muslims, to present themselves as the only spokesmen for French citizens of Muslim confession.

At the local level, this entry of aggressive Islamism, hidden behind a façade of democratism, and through a pitying and intimidating communitarianism, can completely and irreversibly change the national political map and make it falter towards extremism.

In my opinion, the solution to this separatist drift can only be legalistic and republican.

Only a real, republican, voluntary emergency plan for the development, cultural integration, improvement in the daily and economic life of citizens who live in highly, often disadvantaged, Muslim neighbourhoods will be able to fight these “dream merchants” and limit the harmful influence of the various Islamist currents, which have proselytizing and separatist designs.

For those in power, the protagonists, the social workers, as well as for the imams linked to republican and human values, it is now time to take back these areas of ‘no-law’ in order to free them from the clutches of these extremist activists, to reintegrate them back into the place that is theirs: Within the national community.

(*) Imam of Nîmes – Vice-president of the Conference of Imams of France

[i] We thus translate the term “communautarisme”, which indicates a mentality that emphasizes the unity of a group and at the same time the separation from others in society, in a kind of self-ghettoization (ed).

Kickstarting economies without COVID-19 plan, ‘a recipe for disaster’: Tedros
Kickstarting economies without COVID-19 plan, ‘a recipe for disaster’: Tedros

“If countries are serious about opening, they must be serious about suppressing transmission and saving lives”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, briefing reporters from Geneva.  “Opening up without having control, is a recipe for disaster.”

While this may seem an impossible balance, it can be done if countries are in control of transmission, he said.  The more control they have, the more they can open. 

The reality is that coronavirus spreads easily, he said.  It can be fatal for people of all ages and most people remain susceptible.

Prevention, prevention, prevention

To control transmission, he said it is essential to prevent events that lead to outbreaks. COVID-19 spreads efficiently among clusters of people, with explosive outbreaks linked to gatherings at places such as sports stadiums, nightclubs and places of worship. 

At the same time, there are ways to hold gatherings safely, Tedros said.  Decisions about how and when must be made with a risk-based approach, tailored to local conditions. 

Tedros said countries experiencing significant community transmission may need to postpone such events.  Those seeing sporadic cases or small clusters, on the other hand, can find creative ways to hold events while minimizing risk.

He advocated a focus on reducing deaths by protecting the elderly, people with underlying conditions and essential workers.  Countries that do this well may be able to cope with low levels of transmission as they open.

Individuals must play their part by staying at least one metre away from others, cleaning their hands regularly, practicing respiratory etiquette by wearing a mask and avoiding close-contact settings.

For governments, widespread stay-at-home orders can be avoided if they take temporary, geographically targeted interventions. It is important to find, isolate, test and care for COVID-19 cases – and both trace and quarantine contacts. 

WHO guidance for safe reopening

The UN health agency chief said WHO has a range of evidence-based guidance that can be applied in different transmission scenarios, most recently for hotels, cargo ships and fishing vessels.

Meanwhile, the agency is working with its partners through the ACT Accelerator and COVAX Global Vaccines Facility to ensure that a vaccine, once developed, is available equitably to all communities.  He thanked the European Commission, which announced today it would join the COVAX Facility, for its €400 million contribution.

Health systems under pressure

To be sure, all countries are under extreme pressure, he declared.  A WHO survey on the impact of COVID-19 on health systems in 105 countries found that 90 per cent of those surveyed have experienced disruption to their health services, with low- and middle-income countries reporting the greatest difficulties. 

Most nations reported that routine and elective services have been suspended, while critical care – such as cancer screenings and treatment, and HIV therapies – have seen high-risk interruptions in low-income countries.

While many countries are now implementing WHO-recommended strategies to mitigate service disruptions, only 14 per cent have reported the removal of user fees, which WHO recommends, offsetting potential financial difficulties for patients.

He said WHO is also developing the COVID-19 Health Services Learning Hub, a web-based platform that will allow countries to share their experiences.

Aftermath of Beirut explosion

Tedros also touched on WHO’s response to the 4 August blast in Beirut, which injured 6,500 people, left more than 300,000 homeless and severely damaged health infrastructure.

He said the agency is ensuring access to basic health and mental health care for the injured.  It is also expanding COVID-19 testing and treatments, buying medicines and protecting health workers.

To sustain these efforts, Tedros said WHO had launched a $76 million appeal. The WHO Foundation on Monday launched a campaign into which any individual or organization can contribute.

“This virus thrives when we are divided,” he said.  “When we are united, we can defeat it.”

World: UNHCR updated recommendations to the European Union Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (August 2020)
World: UNHCR updated recommendations to the European Union Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (August 2020)

The European Union (EU) is a key partner when it comes to addressing asylum and forced displacement challenges and assisting forcibly displaced people and their hosts abroad and at home. At the first Global Refugee Forum (2019), the EU strongly committed to further engage in forced displacement and asylum, as a reliable partner for protection and solutions.

With more than 79 million people forced to flee – 1% of the world’s population – continued, increased and predictable EU engagement on their behalf is needed now more than ever. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, appeals to the EU to translate its commitment to a reliable partnership on forced displacement and asylum into sound instruments and sufficient resources in the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF 2021-2027), both within and outside its borders.

In line with its founding Treaty and its Charter on Fundamental Rights, the EU needs to have adequate mechanisms in place as well as appropriate resources at hand to ensure people in need of international protection can access its territory, benefit from asylum in Europe, and contribute to societies through well-funded avenues for integration. Regarding its investments outside of the EU, with more predictable funding in place, the EU can meet growing humanitarian and development needs, save lives, help to ease pressure on large refugee-hosting countries, and provide forcibly displaced people with a future, wherever they are.

UNDP and the European Union enter the largest agreement to improve the economic and social wellbeing in Yemen
UNDP and the European Union enter the largest agreement to improve the economic and social wellbeing in Yemen

Yemen – The European Union (EU) and United Nations Development Programme in Yemen (UNDP) have signed a partnership agreement aimed at improving the economic and social wellbeing of Yemenis. With concentrated efforts toward the poorest and most vulnerable populations, the EURO 69.8 million (approximately USD 82.4 million) partnership will be the largest of its kind and will work to strengthen local authorities, bridge lifesaving humanitarian and longer-term development work, and engage the Yemeni private sector to fight poverty.

A three-year initiative, the Strengthening Institutional and Economic Resilience in Yemen (SIERY) intends to rebuild community trust in the Yemeni state and help redefine the central-to-local relations. SIERY will help scale-up support to the Yemeni formal local governance system to help maintain and ensure citizens’ have access to a wide range of basic services, that conflict is minimalized and social cohesion is fostered at the community-level, and that there is a sustainable economic recovery process in place for communities.

Fully aligned with the EU’s Global Strategy to build resilience by supporting good governance, strengthen humanitarian-development nexus and support private sector development, SIERY responds to crucial development challenges.

“In the sixth year of the devastating conflict in Yemen, the European Union continues to stand by the Yemenis, not only to face the most immediate challenges but also to build up their future,” said the Ambassador of the European Union to Yemen, Mr. Hans Grundberg. “This new initiative will put a particular emphasis on critical sectors for vulnerable populations such as health, water, food and education. It will also improve the livelihoods of people by creating jobs and learning opportunities. This will help strengthen the resilience of those already facing difficult situations to better face the multiple challenges linked to the conflict and the coronavirus pandemic.”

UNDP Yemen’s Resident Representative, Mr. Auke Lootsma, indicated that “The protracted conflict has created institutional and economic deficiencies in Yemen that have resulted in dire consequences for citizens. UNDP Yemen is delighted to work with the European Union to continue to improve the lives and situations of Yemenis to maintain, enhance and expand local governance systems.” He added that “Given the crucial role that small and medium sized businesses and Yemeni entrepreneurs play as the economic backbone of the country, SIERY will be instrumental in helping to forge new paths for inclusive and sustainable growth in the future.”

Implemented by UNDP and local partners, SIERY will help ensure basic service delivery such as rehabilitating vitally important community infrastructure like schools, water sanitation and hygiene facilities; address emerging needs such as conflict resolution; help avert disaster by training local authorities and community groups; assist with economic stability by creating plausible, local-level recovery plans; and working with internally displaced people.

UNDP has a longstanding partnership with the EU in Yemen that has impacted hundreds of thousands of Yemenis across the country. Our work together has focused upon enhancing financial security of Yemenis through income-generating activities; improved access to healthcare services; strengthened the ability of local authorities to deliver basic services; and assisted the most vulnerable with access to public services, solar energy and reliable income.

The SIERY project will begin in September 2020 across Yemen and will reflect the responsibility that a responsive and legitimate local governance has in rebuilding peace and stability, as well as cater to the immediate needs of local populations.