Sunday Examiner – Hong Kong
Sino-Vatican interaction in the midst of Covid-19 coronavirus
24TH APRIL 2020
John Cardinal Tong Hon
The pandemic segregates and locks down the world
Since late 2019, the Covid-19 coronavirus has started to manifest itself in certain people, upsetting their health and rhythm of life. Initially, many thought that this was merely a problem for certain regions of China, and given that it was still too remote, it could not affect their whereabouts and lives, and was no cause of concern and worry for them.
Nevertheless, it turned out that utterly beyond any anticipation, many areas of the world witnessed a massive and extensive outbreak of this virus, wave after wave, infecting almost two-and-a-half million people and claiming swiftly and unexpectedly the lives of over 169,000 people.
This has caught the great majority of the countries across the globe unaware and left them stunned, perplexed and at a loss.
In great panic and totally unprepared, they hastily made an official declaration of a state of national emergency issuing bans on entertainment, social gatherings, lockdowns on roads, cities and countries.
All of a sudden, the lives of the majority of people in the world seemed to have become stagnant, with cities, roads and streets heavily enshrouded in a deadly silence.
The Covid-19 coronavirus is just reminding us once again that the interdependency of human beings is a fundamental truth. This pandemic does not favour any particular group, race, social strata, sex or nationality in this world. Therefore, it is actually a problem of all humankind.
If we do not join forces and cooperate to combat and defeat it while it is raging and devastating a certain place, nation or country, but instead stay indifferent and remain inactive, gloat or even further exacerbate the situation by giving the victim a further kick, this virus will ultimately shatter and destroy the health of all humankind.
How should Christians face the Covid-19 pandemic?
How should we, as Christians, face the Covid-19 pandemic? The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council pointed out that the mission of the Catholic Church in the contemporary era is: “Drawn from the treasures of Church teaching, the proposals of this sacred synod look to the assistance of every man of our time, whether he believes in God, or does not explicitly recognise him. If adopted, the proposals will promote among men a sharper insight into their full destiny, and thereby lead them to fashion the world more to man’s surpassing dignity, to search for a brotherhood which is universal and more deeply rooted, and to meet the urgencies of our age with a gallant and unified effort born of love” (n. 91).
If we seriously fulfill the above-mentioned mission in our life, it is by no means difficult for us to find that faith demands us to combat the pandemic with concerted efforts, demonstrating the spirit of unity of mankind amidst distress.
The Holy Bible tells us “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The Son of God was begotten of the Father in love, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son also in love. The Holy Trinity is therefore one being of love.
In the beginning, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Humans share the quality of God’s love. As “it is not good that man should be alone,” God therefore made “him a helper as his partner” (Genesis 2:18).
However, God did not use dust from another piece of ground to create another new man, but man’s rib. When man saw this newly-created woman, he exclaimed in jubilation: “This at last is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” Hence in God’s concept of creation, man should be mutually dependent in love (cf Genesis 2:18, 23).
Although sin jeopardises the interrelationship among human beings and causes a rift in the human language, sin does not change God’s plan of creation. God, through Christ’s descent from heaven 2,000 years ago, deliberately taught the disciples and us a new commandment. “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
Sino-Vatican interaction amid Covid-19 pandemic
The end of last year saw the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in mainland China. After praying the Sunday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on 26 January 2020, Pope Francis said: “I wish to be close to and pray for the people who are sick because of the virus that has spread throughout China. May the Lord welcome the dead into His peace, comfort families and sustain the great commitment by the Chinese community that has already been put in place to combat the epidemic.”
The concern expressed by Pope Francis about the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic was not confined to praying for its victims and families during the Angelus, but he also put his prayers into action.
According to a press statement issued by the Holy See Press Office on 3 February 2020, “The Vatican sent hundreds of thousands of facemasks to China in an attempt to help stall the spread of the coronavirus. The masks have been sent to Hubei, Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, which appear to be the areas most affected by this virus.”
Another press statement on 12 February 2020 specified that “it was a joint initiative of the Office of the Papal Almoner and the Missionary Centre of the Chinese Church in Italy, with the collaboration of the Vatican Pharmacy.”
However, following the rapid spread of this pandemic across the globe to almost every corner of the world, confirmed cases were also reported in the Vatican. When confronted by this grossly severe pandemic, a considerable number of countries took the initiative to enlist China’s assistance.
As a region recently reviving from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, China previously benefitted from the aid of other countries. In honour of the communal spirit of human fate, China is certainly willing to share its experience and resources in battling against the pandemic.
Despite the absence of Sino-Vatican diplomatic ties, China has, however, donated health supplies to the Vatican Pharmacy through non-official associations such as the Red Cross Society and the Hebei Jinde Foundation.
This gesture is “an expression of the solidarity of the Chinese people and the Catholic Communities” and moving “towards those involved in both the prevention of the ongoing pandemic, as well as the relief of those who have been affected” (Holy See Press Office, 9 April 2020).
In view of this, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, expressed gratitude to China in the following words: “The Holy See appreciates the generous gesture and expresses its gratitude to the Bishops, the Catholic faithful, the institutions and all the other Chinese citizens for this humanitarian initiative” and assured them of the Holy Father’s esteem and prayers.
Love surpasses segregation
At the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, segregation was adopted as a policy measure with a view to eradicating the transmission routes of the pandemic. However, it is love and support from sources far and near that ultimately defeat the pandemic. It is hard work under such a spirit of love that we have witnessed the gigantic transformation of the pandemic in our motherland, evolving from the initial outbreak towards recent easing off or even achieving control at gradual intervals.
At the moment, countries other than our motherland have seen the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis. We have also witnessed the way in which China and the Vatican, reflecting the same spirit, surpass segregation in love, eliminate the differences in race, colour, culture, nation, religion and political ideologies, mutually support each other and with concerted efforts, eradicate the devastating impact of the pandemic on the entire human world.
Although the end of the pandemic has yet to be seen, reciprocal assistance attributed to interdependence among human beings is the only effective response to address the situation. Any deviation from this direction is absolutely not a good course to resolve the problem.
Hence, in this historical moment which sees the imperative need of mutual assistance on the part of mankind, we should discard all our selfishness and hypocrisy, and dedicate our heart and efforts to collaborate with the whole world to dismantle among ourselves all the restraints of races, cultures, colour and political ideologies.
It is only then that we can hand in hand stride towards unity and expedite the early advent of a new heaven and a new earth.