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Fear and indifference cannot overcome the pandemic, other disasters that await: Greg Erlandson

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami receives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 16, 2020, at St. John's Nursing Center for Care & Rehab in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a part of Catholic Health Services of the Archdiocese of Miami. Archbishop Wenski said he is encouraging coronavirus vaccinations as morally ethical and a public good as the pandemic continues to rage. (CNS photo/Tom Tracy)

The human tendency to postpone and procrastinate is at times breathtaking. It can also be fatal.

Now that Americans are starting to believe that COVID-19 variations can be more efficiently lethal, hundreds of thousands of us are finally getting vaccinated. For some, they will have delayed too long.

A 39-year-old father in Florida, a father of five, died last month from the virus. Before he died, he texted, “I should have gotten the damn vaccine.”

We all do this, putting off a task or a decision, despite warnings that delay may be harmful. Often these might be small decisions — renewing a license, filling a prescription, writing a term paper. The penalty may be small, the punishment minor.

But sometimes our tendency to delay can be much riskier.

An article in Foreign Affairs magazine titled “The Forever Virus” attempted to recommend “a strategy for the long fight against COVID-19.” It was no surprise that a pandemic struck. Experts had been warning us.

Yet the failures of world leaders to rally effectively against the virus in its early stages has now left us in danger of multiple variants that may be even more deadly than the delta variant currently forcing us all back into masks.

Greg Erlandson
Greg Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, writes the CNS column “Amid the Fray.” (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The article’s authors call for a “system reboot,” including a “global health threats council” and a greater investment in testing and vaccines that will be able to address the worldwide need for both. “Figuring out how to” address this pandemic and prepare for the next one “might be the most meaningful challenge of our lifetime,” they conclude.

Can we rise to the occasion?

In some ways, the collapse of the Florida condominium at Surfside in June seems a tragic metaphor for our current state of vacillation and avoidance.

The video of the building collapsing in the middle of the night as residents slept unawares in their beds is the stuff of nightmares. And yet this unpredictable horror was in fact predicted. Media reports confirmed that there had been multiple warnings of danger.

The Washington Post reported that “debate over the cost and scope of the work … dragged out preparations for the repairs for three years.”

“Despite increasingly dire warnings from the board, many condo owners balked at paying for the extensive improvements.”

Delay was the preferential option until it was too late.

Reading about the Surfside tragedy, I thought of climate change. Humanity has had decades of warnings. The scientific evidence may have been tenuous at first, but it has become increasingly clear and increasingly dire.

Now we are seeing “storms of the century” and “fires of the century” every year. Beyond our shores, we are seeing droughts in Africa and the Middle East, while Siberia and the Arctic thaw. The warnings are growing starker, and yet we vacillate. Like the condo residents, we debate the scale of the problem and the cost of the solution.

The church’s social teachings on the common good are needed now more than ever, as humanity struggles to think beyond its own immediate desires and comfort.

At this providential moment in human history, we have a pope who has made this message forcefully. In his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis appeals for all humanity “to protect our common home.” He challenges us to “regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world.”

The problems we face at times seem overwhelming. We procrastinate out of fear and, sometimes, indifference. The voice of the church is needed now not only to challenge us, but to provide a sense of hope that we can meet the challenge together.

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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at gerlandson@catholicnews.com.