Whether or not they raised a glass of bubbly as the new year made its debut, many people around the world were convinced that 2021 had to be better than 2020 was.
Pope Francis, leading the recitation of the Angelus on 3rd January, had a simple-sounding idea for how to make that happen.
“We do not know what 2021 holds for us,” he said, “but what each one of us, and all of us together, can do is to take care of each other and of creation, our common home.”
The pope’s hopes and best wishes for the new year were echoed, and expanded upon, by a variety of Catholic leaders.
“Maybe with the discovery of the vaccines, we can have some hope. But what gives me more confidence is that patients and people in general now know how to protect themselves and how to coexist with Covid,” said one of Italy’s front-line heroes, a religious from Congo who became a doctor to help her people and ended up working in Italy’s hard-hit Bergamo region.
Disciples of the Redeemer Sr Angel Bipendu, a physician working in the public health service in Villa d’Alme, a small town near Bergamo, told CNS, “We are still battling Covid-19, there are still cases, but it is not like it was” last spring.
Until 13th December she was focusing on Covid-19 patients, but she has since returned to her principal duties as the physician on call each night for the town of about 6,500 people. She has still not returned to the Canossian Sisters’ convent where she was living prior to the pandemic. Many of the sisters there are elderly, and Sr Angel will not take a chance on bringing the virus home to them.
After having seen so many people die and having had to comfort so many grieving families, Sr Angel said she has no patience for people who object to wearing a mask. “Having to wear a mask is not a violation of personal freedom. In fact, those who don’t wear masks violate the rights of others because they can infect them. We all have an obligation to wear masks and observe the precautions.”
The virus, she said, has or should have taught people some useful perspective. “We used to think we could dominate everything, but now we see that we were super-dominated by a pandemic.”
Cardinal Michael Czerny, Vatican undersecretary for migrants and refugees, said that before the pandemic, wishing someone a happy New Year meant, “Here’s wishing you more of the same good things” or good things “along with, if possible, a bit of improvement.”
“But that doesn’t work this time around,” he said. “As Pope Francis often repeats, so eloquently, ‘Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned’ – from the annus horribilis 2020 – ‘is the need to improve what we were already doing … is denying reality.'”
So, the cardinal said, “the first step to really meaning ‘Happy New Year of 2021’ is to stop fantasising about the old normal. The vaccine is good and important, but it won’t bring 2019 back.”
“Instead, we have to wish each other an entirely new, a radically new, new year of 2021, going forward differently and not turning back,” Cardinal Czerny said. Like Pope Francis indicated, “2021 will be a good year only if we start taking care of each other and of our common home. And make no mistake, in this perspective, ‘each other’ doesn’t mean ‘our own and forget the rest’; it means all our brothers and sisters, beginning with the neediest and most vulnerable, as well as future generations, too.”
Ginevra Ossola, a sustainability specialist serving as the junior co-ordinator of the ecology task force of the Vatican’s Covid-19 Commission, said her hopes for the new year also are “to avoid going ‘back to normal,'” and instead “realise and face the mistakes we have made as human beings until today.”
“My biggest hope for 2021 is to stop harming our home, Earth, and to work together to regenerate what we helped destroy,” she said. “I wish for a regeneration from the social, environmental and economic point of view, starting with the equal and safe vaccination for all, with maximum transparency and without unjust privileges.”
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said he already saw signs of hope in many of the ways people reacted to the challenges of 2020.
“The solidarity that I saw in action in the months of the pandemic was for me a strong sign of the rediscovery of our community roots,” he said. “I think that next year we need to strengthen brotherhood, community, human bonds without borders. This is the deep root of Christianity: the spirit of universal brotherhood, through which we can work for truth, for justice, for peace, for a respectful development of the environment and peoples.”
Salesian Sr Alessandra Smerilli, an economist and member of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, said that for her, hope is “the virtue that pushes us to build the future, our tomorrow, without being paralyzed and waiting for something to change. It makes us operative today, because what will come depends on us, too.”
“In Italy,” she said, “we have a saying: ‘Push your heart over the obstacle and go after it.’ Hope makes us look beyond the obstacles.”
Sr Alessandra said she hoped Catholics model their behaviour on that of the first Christian communities, sharing all they have to ensure that no one goes without basic necessities. “I would like love for one’s brother and sister to be the distinctive trait of Christians today as well, and for us to be exemplary in showing personal and collective responsibility.”
Picture: Disciples of the Redeemer Sr Angel Bipendu, a physician from Congo working in the public health service in Villa d’Alme, Italy, is seen in her office in this August 2020 photo. Sr Angel, who was on the frontline of caring for Italian Covid-19 patients, said her hope for 2021 is based on the availability of vaccines, but especially on trust that people now know what to do to slow the spread. (CNS photo/courtesy of Sr Angel Bipendu).