Emerging from the Pandemic as Young CatholicsFriday 28th May 2021
On 13th May, our Young Adults group joined together for an evening of reflection with Dr Austen Ivereigh, co-author of Pope Francis’ new book, Let us Dream. Below, Young Adults Group member Alex Smith reflects on the evening.
Throughout our lives we will have read many books, but perhaps never have had the opportunity to sit and speak with one the authors of these books. However, on the 13th May 2021 young adults from across the diocese had the opportunity to listen to Dr Austen Ivereigh guide us through the book which he co-wrote with Pope Francis. It worth noting at this point that Austen did not write this book, nor does he appear anywhere within the book. The book Let Us Dream is the fruit of conversations between Austen and the Holy Father throughout the summer of 2020. Austen humbly describes that he provided the ‘scaffolding/architecture’ for the book which he and the Holy Father collaborated upon in almost a ‘master and disciple relationship’ of writing. Dr Ivereigh began the evening by sharing with us what he learned from Pope Francis during this time, how the book came to be, and he gave insight into some of the technicalities of the writing of Let Us Dream. The purpose of this evening with Austen though, was an effort to invite young adults to reflect on how they could respond to the book as they emerge from the pandemic. Whilst discussing the content within the book Austen and young adults spent the evening discussing our values; how the pandemic has given us perspective as to what we truly value and where we might have in the past failed to truly appreciate these values.
Around the world the COVID-19 pandemic has been a crisis which has affected every single one of us. It has been a crisis which has completely upheaved our normal routines and way of life; forcing us into isolation. Throughout the past 18 months the word which we all have heard more than ever to describe this crisis is ‘unprecedented’. The word unprecedented can be defined as ‘never done or known before’; certainly not in our lifetime for sure. This exact definition perfectly describes every change and adaptation we have had to take to break away from our usual routines. Suddenly our places of work, our schools, our churches and our shops were forces to close; with most of us finding ourselves living our lives inside of our four walls, for some, in solitude. Fortunately, at the time of writing this, the situation in the United Kingdom is looking brighter, and we are beginning to carefully and optimistically return to some of our previously familiar lifestyles. However, there are certain things that may never return to their old ways. There are even some things which we have a choice of whether we even want them to return to their old ways, and this is exactly the foundation upon which the Holy Father presents his latest book, Let Us Dream. Working together, Pope Francis and Dr Ivereigh endeavoured to anchor themselves to how christian values are the virtues which we can use to escape some of the systems and ideologies that have ultimately led us to the crisis which we find ourselves in.
The pandemic has also shone a spotlight onto those people within our society who truly have worth within our society. These people who are not the celebrities who have been the focal point of our newspaper headlines and tv shows over the prior years. Instead it was the carers, the doctors and nurses, the shop assistants, and the delivery drivers who were deservedly, the primary focus of our praise and attention. These people have been aptly named ‘essential workers’, without whom our society would have struggled to operate. In the book, Pope Francis says “That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe”. Looking forward we were encouraged to think pragmatically about who truly are the role models we should look up to in life.
Another important shift which we were able to observe during our time in isolation was how nature had seemingly adapted so well to a life without humans. Over the years we have shown neglect to the natural world; exploiting this beautiful gift which God has given us. The Holy Father calls for an ecological conversion to prevent us from destroying nature more than we already have, but also, to prevent us from destroying ourselves. Now is a time to embrace the full implications of what it means to be children of God. Ultimately for Pope Francis, he believes the main cause of our problems is the fact that that we have lost our sense of fraternity through our vested interest in individualism. In Let Us Dream the Holy Father encourages us to reflect and think about how we can work together to build the best possible world, where we value each other, the environment and discern where the spirit is speaking to us about our values.
Towards the end of the talk, Austen spoke at great length about the importance of a relationship between young and old people. He described how in life, young people might not yet have had the opportunity to develop their status in the world, perhaps this is because they haven’t yet learned how they can make their mark on the world. However, entering into a dialogue with older people within our society, we should listen to their words of wisdom and their perspective on life. A stronger relationship between younger and older people could be the beginnings of a fruitful fraternity. Sadly too, during the pandemic the significant proportion of deaths have been within the elder generation. These people who have died have been vulnerable not only due to their age, but also the conditions within the homes they find themselves living in. We were pointed to how in scripture, the prophet Joel hears God’s promise to pour out His spirit to renew His people (Joel 2:28). Pope Francis believes that the future will be born from a collaboration between young and old. It was at this point when Austen asked the young adults to break up into smaller groups to discuss their thoughts on the book and to think of ways in which they can develop this relationship with older people. This could be through volunteer work, spending time with elder relatives, or even with older members within our parish. The lessons taught during this evening and more importantly in Let Us Dream are perhaps an invaluable lesson which deserves to be heard by all members of our global society. Now is the time to pause and reflect upon what we truly value, and think about the type of person we want to be, coming out of the pandemic.