ROME — Pope Francis pointed to silver linings of the coronavirus lockdowns Sunday, noting that forcing people to stay home and not work has diminished traffic, noise levels, and air pollution.
The pandemic has made us reflect on “the relationship between man and the environment,” the pontiff told pilgrims and tourists gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus message. “The lockdown has reduced pollution and revealed once more the beauty of so many places free from traffic and noise.”
The pontiff’s words may ring as somewhat tone-deaf to the many Italians whose lives have been destroyed by the lockdowns.
In Italy, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the lockdowns and analysts estimate that about a third of all businesses shuttered during the pandemic will never reopen. Officials expect the unemployment rate in Italy to reach 11.1 percent in 2020, due to the continuing impact of the lockdowns, and the rate is expected to increase still further, to 11.3 percent, in 2021.
The tourist industry, which accounts for some 13 percent of the country’s GDP, lost all revenue during the three months of lockdown and is expected to recover very slowly. Italy reopened to European travel on June 15, but for many, strict regulations on hotels and restaurants will keep numbers below the required profit margin to stay open.
The pope said Sunday that as some people return to work, it is necessary to adopt a more ecologically friendly attitude.
“Now, with the resumption of activities, we should all be more responsible for looking after the common home,” Francis said.
“I appreciate the many ‘grass roots’ initiatives that are emerging in this regard all over the world,” he continued. “For example, in Rome today there is an initiative dedicated to the river Tiber. But there are many others in other places! May they foster a citizenship that is increasingly aware of this essential common good.”
Earlier this month, Pope Francis employed some of his strongest environmental rhetoric to date, insisting the planet earth is “sick,” “wounded,” and “bleeding.”
Writing to the president of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, on the occasion of World Environment Day, the pope said that “protection of the environment and respect for the biodiversity of the planet are issues that affect us all.”
“We cannot pretend to be healthy in a world that is sick,” Francis said. “The wounds inflicted on our mother earth are wounds that also bleed in us.”
“Caring for ecosystems demands a look to the future, one that is not concerned only with the immediate moment or that seeks a quick and easy profit, but rather one that is concerned for life and that seeks its preservation for the benefit of all,” he added.
The official celebrations of World Environment Day would have taken place this year in Bogotá, Colombia, but because of ongoing lockdowns because of the coronavirus will be held virtually, he noted.
“Our attitude toward the present state of our planet should indeed make us concerned for and witnesses to the gravity of the situation,” the pontiff stated in his letter. “We cannot remain silent before the outcry when we realize the very high costs of the destruction and exploitation of the ecosystem.”
“This is not a time to continue looking the other way, indifferent to the signs that our planet is being plundered and violated by greed for profit, very often in the name of progress,” he insisted. “We have the chance to reverse course, to commit ourselves to a better, healthier world and to pass it on to future generations.”
“Everything depends on us, if we really want it,” he said.