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Better luck next time?

There is no need to wait until this pandemic is over to start preparing for the next time. We can start now

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Better luck next time?

Hundreds of millions or even billions of us must be vaccinated. (Photo: Unsplash)

Amid new spikes in much of the world, the latest news about the coronavirus pandemic includes the hopeful message that the accelerated search for a vaccine is bearing fruit. Several possible treatments are showing encouraging results.

Of course, we are still a long way from defeating or at least controlling the infection. Tests of possible vaccines must be concluded. Certifications for use must be granted. Production facilities must be adapted or built. Ingredients must be gathered. Sufficient quantities of vaccines must be produced. Distribution systems must be organized. Vaccinators must be recruited and trained.

And all that must happen before a significant number of us can actually roll up our sleeves to get the shots. Then, hundreds of millions or even billions of us must be vaccinated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, told an interviewer that “we’ll start approaching normal — if the overwhelming majority of people take the vaccine — as we get into the third or fourth quarter [of 2021].”

In 1995, Professor Jonathan Mann of the Harvard University School of Public Health predicted, “The history of our time will be marked by recurrent eruptions of newly discovered diseases.”

A quarter-century ago, Mann was speaking in the midst of the new AIDS epidemic, and since then the world has seen several other epidemics, with the coronavirus pandemic we are living through now as the latest and probably most extensive so far, though not yet the most deadly.

The professor’s prediction must not be forgotten. This pandemic will not be the last. There might be worse. We must prepare for unknown but inevitable outbreaks of globalized disease.

Some places have attempted such preparations, notably the United States which had a structure in place to prepare for and deal with pandemics until it was dismantled by President Donald Trump in his obsession with destroying anything developed during the administration of his predecessor.

Encouraging news about a vaccine, even though it may take a year before we can rest somewhat at ease and be confident that Covid-19 is coming under control, is turning thoughts to what will happen in the Church as we are once again able to gather in community for worship and other activities.

Many people who due to restrictions on gatherings have gotten out of the habit of church-going will probably stay away or only occasionally “drop by” for Mass. Unless our communities nurture attractive encounters with God and the People of God, such people are likely to outnumber those who return to regular participation in parish life.

When I was first learning to speak Japanese, I was talking with a Japanese sister whose English ability was far better than mine at Japanese (it still is). So, we were speaking English. An annoying fly showed up and kept bothering us until I swatted at it and with more luck than skill connected. One dead fly. I looked at Sister and asked, “What would your Buddhist ancestors have said about this?” She replied, “Better luck next time?”

There shall be a next time. We can rely upon luck and avoid the hard work of anticipating it. Or we can even now make a priority of developing a way to be Church that will be able to carry on its mission in the midst of a pandemic.

So far, we have not done well. It appears that the major attempt to maintain a communal liturgical life has been to livestream Masses over the internet where the technology is available.

Granted, I have seen sports fans deeply involved in televised games, shouting at players and referees. However, watching the Mass like a basketball game does not draw the sort of involvement that constitutes participation. It is not a spectator sport.

Zoom meetings, parties, concerts, classes and such show that participation is possible even when physical presence is not. That does not provide a model for Eucharistic liturgy. The Eucharist cannot be downloaded and turned out on a three-D printer. But the Mass is not our only liturgy.

Morning and evening prayer can be celebrated with the active participation of as many people who choose to do so. Scripture sharing, study groups, visitation of the housebound and other activities can be carried out with mutual involvement. There may be other ways we have yet to discover to deal with the next time.

That discovery process must be a priority once things get to a new normal. The next time must not find us unprepared. We must have plans on hand and must even be using them as part of our new normal.

There is no reason, for example, that a community cannot have weekly or even daily communal prayer via the internet involving those who cannot or will not get to a church building but who are able, willing and even anxious to be part of the community in worship.

In fact, there is no need to wait until this pandemic is over to start preparing for the next time. We can start now. And then we will have better luck next time.

Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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