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News / COVID and my Catholic Faith: Division & Healing

COVID and my Catholic Faith: Division & Healing

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F&BF

24 / 02 / 21

COVID and my Catholic faith: how faith has been a source of both division and healing during the time of the pandemic, by Gina Dadaglo

When the pandemic began last year, I remember commenting to some friends that the silver lining was that the world finally seemed united about something: everyone wanted to protect the vulnerable, and defeat the virus. Within a few days of saying so, I began to see how wrong – and naive – I had been. We entered an intensely divisive period. Particularly disheartening to me was to see disagreements and accusations rage within my faith community. Although it certainly wasn’t the first time that I had noticed factions emerging among my fellow Catholics, it felt as though people were now arguing about what it fundamentally meant to be Catholic. Some argued that anyone who chose to ignore social distancing guidelines and to insist on in-person church attendance were failing to love their neighbour, and were acting with an individualism that is contrary to our faith. Others argued that to forego community, and more importantly the Eucharist, was to allow our faith lives to be dictated by the government – a potentially dangerous precedent.

It began to feel as though everyone had to pick a “side”, and the other “side” were the bad guys. This was very discouraging: faith communities are meant to provide solace and support in times of crisis, and instead it seemed that my faith community was itself undergoing a crisis. Although I had strong opinions about the issues being debated, I didn’t want to start seeing other Catholics through eyes of suspicion and condemnation.

During this difficult time, I have tried to cultivate some practices that have helped me move beyond those divisions. Whilst some of the difficult conversations going on are important to have, they are only useful if we are working towards healing the wounds caused by a traumatic year, and seeking good for each other. Below are some of the things I have repeatedly recalled as ways to move beyond division.

God made and loves everyone – Every person is made in God’s image and likeness, meaning that everyone has God’s goodness within them. Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for every person’s transgressions and iniquities – He did not consider anyone unworthy of this gift of love. That means that, in seeking to be more like God, I should try to love all people with my actions as well as my words, and not consider anyone to be unworthy of love.

● Focus on commonality – It is usually the case that even when I disagree with somebody on a given topic, we agree about more than we first realise. For example, if I disagree with somebody about whether or not schools should be closed due to the health crisis, we can probably still agree that we want children to receive the best education possible, that teachers should be adequately protected from the virus, and that there should be protection for those whose livelihoods suffer due to the pandemic.

Saints – Catholics look to the saints as examples of people who have lived lives of heroic virtue, and who can petition God on our behalf if we ask them to pray for us. One of the beautiful things about the saints is that they are extraordinarily diverse – not just in profile, but in personality. Some of them were social justice warriors (like St. Oscar Romero or Servant of God Dorothy Day), others were cloistered nuns (like St. Therese or St. Faustina), and everything in between. Also, the saints made mistakes – sometimes really bad ones (St. Augustine) – yet ultimately realised the error of their ways, and turned to God. When I focus on this, I am reminded that everyone’s path towards God is different, and people are at different stages on that journey. It is not for me to judge whether someone’s views or beliefs put them at odds with God.

Social media – For many, social media has been a lifeline during this time of isolation and loneliness. I have really benefited from connecting with existing friends, as well as “meeting” new people online, over the past year. However, social media is also a hotbed of hostility. When people post things we think are wrong, it’s hard to remember that there is more to that person than their social media platform. It’s much easier to remember the things we appreciate about a person when we see them in real life and recognise that there is more to them than a particular disagreeable opinion. If you find that social media is adding to your anxiety and leaving you agitated, then it might be time to take a step back for a few hours, days, or weeks.

Withdraw from conversation when necessary – Whilst it is important to engage in dialogue with people whose views or beliefs make us uncomfortable, sometimes it is the wisest course of action to end those conversations. If you do not feel the other party is truly listening to you, or you find the content of what they’re saying to be upsetting, then there’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “This conversation is upsetting to me and I don’t feel that my voice is being heard. I would like to stop talking about this now.” It is highly unlikely that a conversation where either party feels attacked or dismissed is going to be fruitful. For many of us, the weight of the global health crisis has been compounded by fractured relationships and tensions within communities. It is important for each of us to find healthy ways to manage these difficulties, so that when the pandemic is over, we still have strong, meaningful relationships that can withstand disagreement.

 

About the author: Gina Dadaglo studied MA Religion, Culture and Society at Leiden University and MA Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster. She believes that religion can be harnessed as a significant force for social change when properly understood and engaged, and enjoys writing about this as well as other religion-based topics.

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