Vatican Official: Pandemic a Cause for ‘Radical Change’

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by Martin Barillas  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 27, 2020   

Francis pick pushing 'systemic change' for a 'new world'

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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new Vatican appointee is eyeing the pandemic as an opportunity to effect "radical change" within the Church and across the world. 

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Cdl. Peter Turkson

Pope Francis has appointed Fr. Augusto Zampini to serve as adjunct secretary in the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development and to lead an unprecedented "task force" that will report directly to the pope in response to challenges posed by the Wuhan virus. He works as Director of Development and Faith at the Dicastery, which is headed by Cdl. Peter Turkson, whom he will closely advise.

According to Argentina's La Nacion newspaper, Zampini said of the pandemic: "This is the first real crisis of the 21st century. The one in 2008 was merely financial. It is not known how long it will last and even if the virus can be controlled, it will endure. It is urgent to prepare for the future, which is tremendous." Earlier this month, he said that he will advise the Pope on the virus, suggesting, "We are in a new world and have to respond quickly and integrally."

Links Pandemic to Treatment of Animals, Nature 

According to America magazine, the Argentine priest claimed that the pandemic came about because of how "we treat animals and how we treat nature." According to the Jesuit publication, he sees the pandemic as an opportunity for conversion and "radical change" in how the environment is treated, in accordance with the pope's encyclical Laudato Sí: On Care for Our Common Home.

The magazine quoted Zampini, who thinks that the pandemic is "an unprecedented opportunity for change, for a better, healthier and less unjust world." He said: "We should be conscious that the decisions that are being taken by governments and world leaders in these months will shape the future of our world."

Father Zampini said that no country can afford to have 60% of its workforce unemployed and that leaders must think ahead to create new jobs. Also, he said that a reduction in spending on war and weapons must be addressed in order to establish a global health care system.

Decisions that are being taken by governments and world leaders in these months will shape the future of our world.

As a theologian, Fr. Zampini has lectured on Christian ethics and human rights. In England, he served as a theological advisor to Catholic Agency For Overseas Development of the UK (CAFOD), and served Cdl. Vincent Nichols on issues related to Laudato Sí. He was a principal advisor to the Amazon Synod: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology of October 2019, where issues ranging from the ordination of women, evangelization of native peoples and environmentalism were discussed as part of implementing Laudato Sí.

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In advance of the Amazon Synod, Fr. Zampini said in a CAFOD video that the dicastery "is in charge of promoting the message of Laudato , which is at the heart of integral ecology." 

Warning that the "crisis" in the basin of the Amazon River has implications for the whole world, he asked his viewers to encourage their bishops to implement Laudato Sí and to "walk together" for the Church and "integral ecology." 

The "socio-environmental crisis" in the Amazon and the "cry of the earth, and the cry of the poor," he said, cannot be addressed "in isolation or as a Church," but "We have to do it among as many as we can." 

[The covenant] was with Noah, family, animals and plants. The new covenant was again an environmental covenant.

The "cry of the earth" and the "cry of the poor" are not separate crises, he said. "The cause of that cry," he said, must be addressed, while the "spiritual dimension" attested by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon must be recognized. "We need the voice of everyone in order to effect a systemic change," he concluded.  

In an earlier YouTube video released by CAFOD, Fr. Zampini explained the theological underpinnings of his work in relating the scriptural mandate for human charity to caring for the natural world. Saying that he had done "deep theological research" for CAFOD's campaign on climate change, the priest said that he had relied on the story in Genesis of God's creation of the world and Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. Father Zampini claimed that it answers the question: 'What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' and that its lesson is that salvation "is only possible through love."

Environmentalist Reinterpretation of Scripture

To conform to the commandment to love God and man means believers must heal relationships, Zampini suggested. Relating the parable to the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, he said that their relationship with God and each other was broken. He added that they were also made stewards of God's creation and called to show God's "same love, compassion and care for every single creature." 

"Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, and living in perfect environmental harmony to it," Fr. Zampini said. When he posed the question as to why they were forced to leave Eden, he answered, "they didn't respect the limits of their own stewardship  they wanted to be more," and broke God's command to leave the Tree of Knowledge untouched. It was because of the "lack of respect for their own characteristics of nature and the rest," he said, that they were expelled from Eden, which was an "environmental loss" and a breakdown in the "relationship between men and women."

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Dr. Celia Deane-Drummond

Going on to the story of Noah, Fr. Zampini said that because of "human violence, we can also destroy the entire planet and actually the planet was flooded." God restored this "environmental destruction," he said, by making a new covenant "not just with Noah and his family. It was with Noah, family, animals and plants. The new covenant was again an environmental covenant."

In the video, Zampini cited Dr. Celia Deane-Drummond of Oxford University as a theological advisor. Professor Deane-Drummond directs the Laudato Sí  Research Institute (LSRI). According to her web page, the focus of LSRI is on "research elements relevant for Pope Francis' call for an 'integral ecology', including building credible multidisciplinary hubs of research that are relevant for the pressing ecological and environmental issues of our time."

Deane-Drummond teaches, he said, that the Good Samaritan parable explains how Christians can live life fully through "a compassionate love towards neighbors or towards beings in general" and healing relationships.

While Genesis, he said, describes how relationships are broken, the parable teaches that healing means that neighbors not only live next door, but are also other people. For Zampini, "What we are suggesting is that those people or the notion of behaving neighborly is not just limited to people, but also to other creatures and to the earth in general. Why? Because Christ, who epitomizes the Good Samaritan, has come to redeem all creation, not just human beings."

He argued that the parable is about:

restoring and healing environmental, social, intimate and familial relationships. It's a compassionate and loving approach to heal the other, just for the sake of the dignity of the other. And if we can respect the dignity of people and creatures and of the earth and if we can have this compassionate attitude towards them, we are going shine, in terms of being like in the image and likeness of God and we are going to be capable of building up a new way of relating to each other and to the entire creation.

Father Zampini was born in Argentina in 1969 and ordained in 2004. Before entering the seminary, he worked as a lawyer for a powerful Argentine bank and the United States-based Baker & McKenzie law firm. He later served as an assistant and chaplain in various parishes in and around Buenos Aires. He holds a doctorate in moral theology from Roehampton University (United Kingdom) and has done postdoctoral work at the University of Cambridge.

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