Note of the Family International Monitor on Covid19

D. José Luis Mendoza Pérez, Executive Vice-President D. Antonio Rizzolo, Scientific Vice President Mons. Pierangelo Sequeri, Academic Vice President

In this extraordinary circumstance caused by the Coronavirus pandemic at a global level, the Family International Monitor as well is directly involved by the radical changes that the pandemic has triggered. In particular, within the more general objective of reading the role of the family in the humanisation of contemporary society, the Family International Monitor is dealing, during the 2019-2021 three-year period, with the topic of family and poverty, by considering the aspects of relational poverty (with a first report in 2020) and of economic-structural poverty (with a conclusive report in 2021).

Therefore, some topics are of vital importance to us, in this forced transition that has further intensified some critical elements in the interaction between family relations and social, economic and relational vulnerability, but that at the same time has revealed with more clarity the incredible resilient abilities of the family, at every latitude, even under the most complex and dramatic stresses.

1. The social distancing strategy asked to each family to “stay at home”, both to protect its own members and to impede the diffusion of the contagion. Many territories have been in lock down during various weeks and, currently, a large part of the most affected nations still has its families in a situation of “involuntary reclusion”. That is, the community has entrusted to the family a decisive task for the common good, by asking to each house to become a safe place. This obliged the families to recover time to spend together, with a close coexistence, a lot closer than it was before, with an intense everyday life, with educative roles that are summoned again to the front line, with the adolescent kids obliged to stay at home, entrusting to the digital relations those peer social relations that used to be considered as essential. The first resource brought into play -but mostly put to test- consisted precisely of the family relations, their resistance, endurance, solidity and flexibility. Probably, at the end of the emergency, many will treasure the beauty of the family proximity experiences, but many will need help, relational support, protection from relational conflicts and clashes that the forced proximity will probably have caused. It would be a serious mistake not to support the families and their relations in the uneasy path towards a normality that surely will not be “as it was before”.

2. A second element, always related to the relation between family relations and house, refers to the fact that in many territorial contexts and in many cultures, the house as such, considering exclusively its architectural elements, frequently is a space of physical protection, it is precarious, it also lacks the essential services, it has cramped spaces, it is overcrowded. “Staying at home” when you live in a house with a garden is one thing, but being “obliged to stay at home” in a shanty town of the African or South American megalopolises (which exist even in the rich United States and Europe), where “home” is the place where one sleeps at most, is another thing. There are entire areas of the planet where the family “lives outside”, in the common spaces of the community of the village; and in such places, the strategies to contain the pandemic clearly cannot be the same ones adopted in the metropolises of Lombardy or in the terraced houses of the residential districts of the United States.

3. The data at an international level seem to confirm that the pandemic could spread mostly in the countries and among peoples in which the intergenerational relations are more intense and frequent. In those places where the elderly used to see most frequently their adult children and their old parents, precisely by “poisoning” those relations of care and solidarity, the virus was transmitted, affecting more strongly precisely the most vulnerable groups of people (because of their health status or their age). In this way, the pandemic obliged us to the paradox of social distancing: for the sake of the other, the most efficient strategy is to stay away, the lack of physical contact, distance, also in the most intimate relationships. Furthermore, we had to learn with greater awareness that the good of others is obtained also without direct relations, by simply by respecting the rules of common impersonal good (staying at home to avoid increasing the risks of contagion, for oneself but especially for the others).

4. At a local level, the pandemic affected the most vulnerable ones, not only from the point of view of individual health (elderly, seriously ill people, people with disabilities) but also those who were already in a situation of serious social, economic and health precariousness and vulnerability. Homeless persons, the masses of persons urbanised at the borders of the megalopolises, the elderly isolated and with no relations, or the ones living in residences with a low social and health care: these are all persons that the pandemic affected, and in many national contexts without even being recorded in the epidemiological accounting of the pandemic. So many children left without adults of reference, apparently spared by the pandemic with regard to the risk of losing their lives, but with great pain, without adults of reference. So many dead people abandoned in the street, burnt, buried in mass graves, without that minimum pietas towards the death and the grief that we thought we had already obtained as a minimum level of civilization!

5. From the macro-economic global perspective, it is necessary to remember that the impact at a global level of the Coronavirus pandemic will last for a long time and will have very heterogeneous dimensions, according to the different relevant variables. Today we already see some countries that seem to be already out of the emergency (first of all China), together with other countries that are in the midst of the emergency (for example Italy, surely Spain and the United States) and countries that seem to have been spared by the pandemic, either because they promptly adopted the contrast measures (Taiwan, South Korea) or because, unfortunately, we have few information about them (this is the case of many countries in Africa and Asia, but the issue concerns also the differences in the collection of data and in the actions strategies between similar countries, inside Europe itself).

These temporal displacements have already caused -and will increasingly cause- growing inequalities and penalizations, in the availability of the medical devices to protect people’s health, but also in the perspectives of economic recovery in the various countries. Surely, the global economic balances will turn out to be significantly changed, after the pandemic, but it is easy to foresee that a more equal system will hardly emerge at a global level. Probably, big transnational economic groups will influence the health research resources, the terms of trade among nations, the areas of social-economic and political influence, in a way that is impossible to foresee today.

Only the recovery of the centrality of the international bodies of political mediation (United Nations, WHO among others) could act as a counterweight against an additional global inequality.

6. Our health and welfare systems have been taken by surprise and have been overwhelmed by the pandemic: some of them resisted, even with big efforts, thanks to the extraordinary “normal” commitment of the health professionals: they are not heroes in a rhetorical way, but they humanly are true, complete persons and professionals, still able to resist in the situation, because of their sense of duty, solidarity, responsibility. Others, on the other hand, showed all of their limitations, revealing how easy it is for “the culture of waste” to take over persons, organisational systems and governments.

The NGOs, the voluntary work, the religious charitable organisations did a lot to alleviate the difficulties of these marginal subjects, by integrating and supporting the public intervention of the health systems, by offering hospitality, accommodation, food, support and proximity to the many “forgotten” ones. Subsidiarity in action.

Regarding this as well, an in-depth reflection will be necessary, at a local, national and international level, to build regulatory tools are able to give value to the great ability of mobilisation of civil society: not as an alternative to the guarantees of welfare and public health for which the countries are responsible, but to make it more effective, more flexible, more humanised, more dynamic, more free -and, therefore, more effective. “To avoid that the last are left too far behind”.

7. Lastly, the pandemic obliged us to take nothing for granted, also with regard to the modalities of social cohesion and solidarity. One of the most effective help and support strategies in favour of the last -the proximity, the direct contact, the relational services- found itself to be “offside”. Luckily, the creativity of the volunteers, organisers, operators of the aid relations immediately created new opportunities -for example the street newspapers of the homeless, immediately offered for sale online, with a radical shift of perspective.

The entire system of aid relations will have the responsibility, after the pandemic, to “treasure” these innovations, to be able to be always more effective in “staying next” to those who are in difficulty.

To keep alive the new “distance” support modalities, while waiting to go back at being, like before or even better, contact operators, who, through relations, try to fill the distances with the last, so that inequality of opportunities does not become bigger, after this epoch-making crisis.

And to be able to come back, confident, while following the words of Pope Francis, when he reminded us: «... When you give alms, do you look into the eyes of the man or woman to whom you are giving the alms? ...And do you touch the hand of the person to whom you are giving the alms, or do you throw the coin into the hand? »