Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I come to the end of these considerations, I would like to focus on one last crisis, which is perhaps the most serious of all: the crisis of human relationships, as the expression of a general anthropological crisis, dealing with the very conception of the human person and his or her transcendent dignity.
The pandemic, which forced us to endure long months of isolation and often loneliness, has brought out the need of every individual for human relationships. I think before all else of those students who were unable to attend school or university regularly. “Attempts have been made everywhere to offer a rapid response through online educational platforms. These have brought to light a marked disparity in educational and technological opportunities, but they have also made us realize that, due to the lockdown and many other already existing needs, large numbers of children and adolescents have fallen behind in the natural process of schooling”. Furthermore, the increase in distance learning has also led to a greater dependence of children and adolescents on the internet and on virtual forms of communication in general, making them all the more vulnerable and overexposed to online criminal activities.
We are witnessing a sort of “educational catastrophe” – let me repeat this: a kind of educational catastrophe – to which we must react for the sake of generations to come and for society as a whole. “Today, there is need for a renewed commitment to an education that engages society at every level”. Education is, in fact, “a natural antidote to the individualistic culture that at times degenerates into a true cult of the self and the primacy of indifference. Our future cannot be one of division, impoverishment of thought, imagination, attentiveness, dialogue and mutual understanding”.
At the same time, long periods of lockdown have also made it possible for families to spend more time together. For many of them, it was an important opportunity to renew their deepest relationships. Marriage and family “constitute one of the most precious of human values” and the foundation of every civil society. The great Pope Saint John Paul II, the centenary of whose birth we commemorated last year, noted in his insightful teachings on the family that, “nowadays, given the global dimension of various social questions, the family has seen its role in the development of society expanded in a completely new way… by presenting to their children a model of life based on the values of truth, freedom, justice and love”. Even so, not everybody has been able to live with serenity in his or her own home and some forms of cohabitation have degenerated and led to domestic violence. I encourage everyone, civil and public authorities, to provide support to the victims of domestic violence: unfortunately, as we all know, women, often with children, are those who pay the highest price.
The need to halt the spread of the virus has also had implications for a number of fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, restricting public worship and the educational and charitable activities of faith communities. It must be recognized, however, that religion is a fundamental aspect of the human person and of society, and cannot be eliminated. Even as we seek ways to protect human lives from the spread of the virus, we cannot view the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person as less important than physical health.
Freedom of worship, furthermore, is not a corollary of the freedom of assembly. It is in essence derived from the right to freedom of religion, which is the primary and fundamental human right. This right must therefore be respected, protected and defended by civil authorities, like the right to bodily and physical health. For that matter, sound care of the body can never ignore care of the soul.