Post-Pandemic: For Better Or Worse?

Author: Fr. Jonathan Cotton

Picture: Flickr

Post-Pandemic: For Better Or Worse?

After Pope Francis' call to CCR to help build a new society post-COVID-19, Fr. Jonathan Cotton shares his experiences of proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.

Do you know what caused me to swerve in the road as I drove into Matlock, Derbyshire, and noticed something parked in the layby? It was just before the coronavirus lockdown.

Whilst you are thinking about that, here’s a more serious question: are we in CCR going to emerge from this pandemic better or worse? This is the question Pope Francis asked us on the  Eve of Pentecost. Already Francis is helping us draw lessons from this crisis. We have seen how the world needs to, and can work, as one.

We have seen the woundedness of the world and the desperation of the rejected poor, says Francis. The Holy Spirit enlightens our minds to see in the poor the face of Christ.

How are we going to use the Spirit’s gifts to serve the poor, serve Christ, and bring social transformation? How do we work together to end “the pandemic of poverty in the world”?

The answer to this is Pope Francis’ better  way.

Living A Balanced Christian Life

Pope Francis’ challenge is for us to reflect on how well we are living a balanced, wholesome Christian life – a life deeply rooted in our personal encounter with Jesus Christ whose relationship with us, if it is authentic, drives us out of ourselves in love to serve our neighbour with our many spiritual gifts, building the social transformation generated by the Holy Spirit.

It is this daily reflection which inspired us in the Matlock based Nottingham Pilgrims Community, of which I was Director, to evangelise in two ways. Firstly, through creative direct proclamation of the Gospel, using music, drama, small group work and personal testimony. Secondly, through service work in the neighbourhood – pre-evangelisation, or friendship evangelisation, sowing seeds.

The Pilgrims was a gap year experience for young people who lived in community and were trained to evangelise in outreach teams in schools, parishes and Conferences. It closed in 2007.

Proclaiming The Gospel In Word And Deed

This was the brief of the Service Team:

“To seek out the needs of young people in the parish, locally and in the Diocese, and develop ways to respond to their needs. Ideally, we are looking for the greatest area of need, or the area where the ‘poorest of the poor’ can be served.”

Did not Jesus himself proclaim the Gospel in word and deed? He started his public ministry by quoting from Isaiah, saying that the Spirit was driving him to fulfil this passage, not only by preaching the Good News to the poor, but also by liberating captives, healing  the blind, releasing the oppressed and cancelling debts, and so on? [See Luke 4: 16-22]

Similarly Mother Teresa, a saintly inspiration, after an hour every day before the Blessed Sacrament, would go to the highways and byways to seek out the poorest of the poor. As Mother Teresa said: “In the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself the Bread of Life that I may eat Him. In the poor, He makes Himself the hungry one that I may feed Him.”

Seeds Bearing Fruit

The research in the area by our Service Team led us to be a catalyst for forming The Central Dales Youth Project – an umbrella group of key local leaders who wanted to respond to worrying statistics about the increase of petty crime and drug abuse among young people.

The one thousand young people we surveyed told us they had nowhere safe and drug-free to meet in town. Eventually, we ran The Bus Stop Project – converting a double-decker bus, donated by Stagecoach, as a roving drop-in centre for young people. Yet by the time we moved from Matlock, various health and safety regulations were hampering the progress of the project.

Twenty-five years later, have you guessed what I saw in the layby coming into Matlock? Yes, an impressive Youth Bus, part of a mobile youth outreach. The seeds sown so long ago had finally born fruit. Sometimes, it can take time to come out “better.”

We missionary disciples, driven by the Holy Spirit, are called to collaborate with Jesus, who promised: “I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)Pope Francis throws us the challenge: "How do you want to come out of this crisis, better or worse? Let us open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit so that he may change our hearts and help us to come out better."

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