The year began with the historic impeachment trial of the US president and the threat of war between the US and Iran, but as Covid pandemic was unleashed, the savage consequences became the story of the year.
It was the world’s worst crisis since the 2007-8 financial crash but the worst pandemic since the 1918-20 Spanish Flu which infected 500 million people – a third of the world’s population – and killed an estimated 50-100 million. As often in crises, the poor are suffering usually most badly, but some of the elite were infected, too. Perhaps the world may never be the same again. The social and economic lessons from the pandemic, hopefully, will bring about reforms in those areas and a proper prevention strategy for the next pandemic.
As the crisis blew up in every country, a rare step was made by Pope Francis to cancel his official foreign visits: to Indonesia, East Timor, Singapore and Papua New Guinea. However, he made sure his international presence was widely felt. His online daily masses from the chapel of Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, lasted for three months while Italy’s churches were closed. He was seen on world TV walking alone through deserted Rome streets for a pandemic podcast. The Pope also made many videos throughout the year and even addressed the United Nations Assembly about competitive aggressive arms production, rights of migrants and rewriting economics and finance.
Most significantly, too, in 2020 were Papal encyclicals. Firstly was a year-long anniversary of his encyclical Laudato si, which proposed solutions for the world’s problems not just concerning economy, inequality and ecology but other important issues affecting the human condition.
His next encyclical letter, Fratelli tutti, subtitled “on fraternity and social friendship,” was finalized in the autumn, a very timely piece, given the crisis, which underlines not just fraternity but how important inter-connectivity is on many levels within the human family and how we should reach out and understand each other.
Also, on family matters the Holy Father announced the “Amoris Laetitia Family Year,” to begin on 19 March 2021 and end in June 2022, coinciding with the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome.
Looking back on 2020, perhaps the most symbolic and moving image of Pope Francis’ seventh year of Pontificate is the solitary pontiff’s standing in front of St Peter’s Basilica, on a cold a raining March evening, as the pandemic reached a peak in Italy, assuring us everywhere that “no one is saved alone,” that Jesus is with us while we wait out the storm.