FORMED BY RELIGIOUS ROOTS AND TRAGEDY – “Catholic social doctrine taught me that faith without works is dead”

Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong Correspondent

Joe Biden recovered from terrible family tragedies twice. Only days into being elected into the US Senate, his wife and daughter were killed and sons seriously injured. While in Washington setting up his office his family was involved in a car accident. Soon after  he wanted to abandon politics but decided to do it the hard way: three hours commuting a day to be with his sons. A dedicated family man, Biden went home after work for thirty years.

The second tragedy was his son dying of cancer. The grief  prevented Biden from being a candidate for presidential election, for the third time. But misfortune had dogged him from childhood, born into a poor working class family and with a speech impediment, a strong stutter, many would not have expected success from him.

But as his father, who was also knocked down badly in life, used to tell him, always get up again. He did.

While bad luck struck him devastatingly, being almost President, unlikely at times, shows how fortune has smiled on him. How unlikely, because this year, at the beginning of the election he was trailing in fifth place. Against him too was months of no public campaigning losing  his man-on-the-street strength style of chatting with ordinary people because of his Covid prevention policy. Yet despite this weakness of no public campaigning, except for the last month of the election, his online campaign succeeded.   Highly exceptional too, Biden will be the oldest ever in the top job, and only the second Catholic there.

But fortunate too, as he has often said and wrote in his autobiography, in having and keeping his faith, which has always been a pillar of strength.

In the words of John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Biden sprung from historic changing times where he made the right choice. “For an Irish Catholic kid growing up at a time of Vatican II, civil rights and the Vietnam War, there were several paths forward. Some resisted change and clung to old ways, some abandoned roots to embrace change, and some found in faith and family the strength to work for greater justice.”

Early misfortunes were highly helpful in the end to Biden’s career, too. Just as there is wisdom that problems provide opportunities, his stutter and working class solidarity kept him humble in his political campaigning, especially becoming  president-elect. His seemingly sincere man-of-the-people image  pleased voters, with his empathy for the pandemic’s victims, and constant advice about prevention. This empathy many political experts state was a key to his election success, and appears to observers as coming from his own family tragedies. 

With Biden a new historic turn around is on us: a dramatic change of personality and policy attitudes in the upcoming president, a stark contrast to Trump’s turbulent, damaging four years.

As the replacement, the diplomatic, smooth talking, friendly, veteran politician said in tune with many outraged political scientists: “We’ve done with the chaos, we’ve done with the tweets, the anger, the hate, the failure, the irresponsibility.” Of course bearing in mind Biden’s tremendous challenges: the worst health and economic crises in his country, and in much of the world, in over a hundred years. As significant too are the international walls Trump has built.  Firstly, instead of collaboration, the relationships are poor now with the two other main political and economic blocks, the EU and China, leaving the most isolated US since World War Two.

Secondly, relationships are broken with important international bodies and accords, such as the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate change, and multinational widespread trade agreements. Biden is already sizing up his teams to reverse these breakups and tackle the number one priority – the pandemic. Secondly, but interrelated, the US  economy. His election win was congratulated by a number of world powers, and the Church in the US, too, who also underlined the importance of the first woman to be vice-president.                                                                                           

American Bishops  agreed with Biden’s call for national unity and showed gratitude for the freedom the election showed. “We thank God for the blessings of liberty. The American people have spoken in this election. Now is the time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity and to commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good. As Catholics and Americans, our priorities and mission are clear. We are here to follow Jesus Christ, to bear witness to his love in our lives,”  said  Archbishop Gomez of L.A. President of the  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an official statement. He said it is a time for U.S. “Catholics to be peacekeepers, promote fraternity and mutual trust, charity and civility even as we might disagree deeply in our debates on matters of law and public policy. As we do this, we recognize that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has received enough votes to be elected the 46th President of the United States. We congratulate Mr. Biden, the second United States president to profess the Catholic faith. We also congratulate Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who becomes the first woman ever elected as vice president. We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of this great nation, to intercede for us. May she help us to work together to fulfill the beautiful vision of America’s missionaries and founders — one nation under God, where the sanctity of every human life is defended and freedom of conscience and religion are guaranteed.”

Returning to his faith frequently during his election campaign, as he has done regularly in previous elections, Biden also wrote about for an article for the Christian Post newspaper last summer.

“I grew up with Catholic social doctrine, which taught me that faith without works is dead, and you will know us by what we do.” He added that more progress is to be made “to ensure that all men and women are not only created equal, but are treated equally.”

First priority for the new president will be the pandemic, he said Monday, speaking from his new president-elect center where he is attending to the challenges of the transition to take office on January 20. As Biden called out for during his election to wear “a mask for yourself and your neighbour. A mask is not a political statement.” He also pointed out that masks are the most important weapon against Covid, according to the official American contagious diseases agency. Biden practises what he advises, by always wearing a mask around others. Trump did not during the election and experts were surprised he did not get the coronavirus earlier than he did. Biden wants to control the pandemic through extending national contact and tracing centres, which have been shown there, and internationally to be effective at stopping the virus spreading from infected people. He has also formed an advisory board of scientists and doctors. There was inspiring news on the Covid prevention too at the weekend: a Covid vaccine made by the US giant Pfizer has been tested 90% effective in the sample cases. If the ongoing research confirms more its effectiveness with no ill effects, it could be used for high risk people from March. However, “many months” will pass before general availability, Biden said. The 90% rate was far above the 50% expectancy of other coronavirus vaccines

What is unknown so far is how long the vaccine’s effects will be. Will it be needed annually, like flu viruses or every few weeks or months? That question is specially relevant because in cured Covid cases, antibodies in the blood can disappear after two months. Another unknown is whether the vaccine will be effective in old people.

Biden’s second priority when he takes over the presidency is how to boost the economy. He has plans for a  $US 2 trillion fund to charge  to boost green energy. The latter will help the working class who work in this sector, he said.

His second big budget plan is for the government to invest US$ 300 billion into US-made materials, services, research and technology.   He also wants to help the poor by doubling the minimum wage per hour to $US 15. Another plan is to use $30 billion investment fund to support ethnic minorities. (Photo: France 24)