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 A society redesigned—Archbishop’s presentation to CARICOM heads

By Kaelanne Jordan
Twitter: @kaelanne1

The opportunity to be seized is not to re-open or re-start the economy so that we go back to the status quo pre-pandemic, but rather to begin to take steps, however small, to move our societies and economies to where we think they should be; in fact, where economies need to be, given the COVID-19 experience.

This was the crux of the message Archbishop Jason Gordon delivered to CARICOM heads on Wednesday (April 15). The Archbishop’s presentation was titled ‘A Plan To Exit from Lockdown Safely: forging a new civilisation through COVID-19’.

In this crisis, there is rich opportunity for positive change. An economic re-ordering, the Archbishop asserted, is needed to start the process.

“This pandemic gives us an opportunity to re-order our economic structures to be more resilient; to re-order our societies to be more equitable; to restructure our relationships at family, community and societal levels to be more inclusive, respectful and tolerant,” he said.

It is an opportunity to aspire to become Communities that embrace digital technologies, and enhances the capabilities of working people and students, so that they are informed and use knowledge intelligently to promote adaptive, resilient and fair socio-economic landscapes.

Given the devastating impacts on global, regional and national supply chains, trade, and commerce, there is a need for Caribbean nations to explore and trial their own approaches to restarting economies, as they emerge from the first wave of the pandemic.

He added that there must be mindfulness of other 21st century challenges of inequality, social injustice, and ethics which are transforming Caribbean societies.

Role of the Church

It is for these reasons that the Church feels “prompted” to be part of the response to a new order, a new approach, the Archbishop said.

The Church strongly recommends being guided by two principles of Catholic Social Teaching: 1) the preferential option for the poor, and 2) the principle of solidarity.  He highlighted several areas on which the Catholic Church has already begun the conversation with many stakeholders:

  1. Working to ensure the spiritual and psychological health of our people
  2. Facilitating a network of networks that work collaboratively to ensure open supply chains to the most vulnerable communities and people
  3. Education: Adopting a whole-of-society approach to ensure all teachers in Catholic schools have a “lifeboat” to face the third term that opens in April. Then to ensure there is a platform and support for the transition to national digital platforms before the September term
  4. Agriculture/recycling: Finding the best technologies to grow healthy food so the poor and vulnerable can be fed. Working with all stakeholders to promote each family growing food in their house plot and encouraging recycling at the home, community and national level
  5. Home app: Working with stakeholders to develop an app like Angie’s list app where needs for home improvement are brought together with skills that are vetted and accredited
  6. Using all available channels of communications to promote resilience and building hope in our nation

The whole of society redesigned

In his presentation, the Archbishop observed we are operating as if there are only two ways to fully stop this pandemic: herd immunity, or a vaccine that inoculates the population. He however added that with the second wave of infections in some countries, we need to assume that the COVID-19 pandemic has “a long tail”.

“What if there was another way?” the Archbishop questioned. “What if we could shut down parts of the society, those with the greatest risk of death, from COVID-19? What if we could keep the vulnerable physically isolated from the other parts of the society with the least risk of death from COVID-19? What if we got the first group to contribute to society through digital tools, and making masks and performing functions that they can do from home, while we got the other part to take responsibility for the mission critical areas that are necessary to keep society going?”

“Two groups both active around one mission—Keeping our sovereign nations open while integrating Caribbean civilisation,” he explained.

For this, Archbishop Gordon said, we will need to move from a command-and-control model of leadership to a whole-of-society approach where we flatten the society and allow the brightest and the best, the wise and the nurturer to participate in solving the most urgent challenges facing society and the region. “Imagine having the brightest and the most experienced interacting with you each day to solve the urgent national and regional challenges in real time?” he said.

While Heads of Government have the burden of choices taken during the pandemic, in a community, region or country all stakeholders are important to include. This network of civil society needs to mobilise those who can now be active to ensure care for the most vulnerable and build networks that facilitate discipline, productivity and harmony in society, Archbishop Gordon said.