Pope Francis urged governments on Monday to use the coronavirus crisis as a revolutionary opportunity to create a world that is more economically and environmentally just — and where basic health care is guaranteed for all.
Francis made the appeal in his annual foreign policy address to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, an appointment that was postponed for two weeks after he suffered a bout of sciatica nerve pain that made standing and walking difficult.
Francis urged the governments represented in the Apostolic Palace to contribute to global initiatives to provide vaccines to the poor and to use the pandemic to reset what he said was a sick economic model that exploits the poor and the Earth.
"There is need for a kind of new Copernican revolution that can put the economy at the service of men and women, not vice versa," he said, referring to the 16th-century paradigm shift that stated the sun was at the center of the universe, not the Earth.
He said such a revolutionary new economy is "one that brings life not death, one that is inclusive and not exclusive, humane and not dehumanizing, one that cares for the environment and does not despoil it."
Francis has frequently called for the world to use the pandemic as a chance to re-imagine a global economy that values people and the planet over profits, and one where fraternity and solidarity guide human relationships rather than conflict and division.
The 84-year-old Francis hit those themes in his lengthy address, which was delivered in a larger reception hall than usual to provide greater social distancing for the 88 ambassadors who attended. At the end, Francis invited each one up but said he wouldn't shake their hands and urged them to keep their distance. Francis has been vaccinated against the virus.
In his speech, he called for basic health care to be provided to all. He noted that those on the margins of society and who work in the informal economy have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with the fewest social nets to survive it.
"Driven by desperation, many have sought other forms of income and risk being exploited through illegal or forced labor, prostitution and various criminal activities, including human trafficking," Francis warned.
He said children have suffered from an "educational catastrophe" with closed schools, women have been victims of domestic abuse, the faithful have been deprived of communal worship and that all of humanity has been restricted from close human contact.
"Along with vaccines, fraternity and hope are, as it were, the medicine we need in today's world," he said.
In addition to the pandemic, Francis listed other areas of particular concern, starting with the coup in Myanmar, which Francis visited in 2017. He called for political leaders to be "promptly released as a sign of encouragement for a sincere dialogue aimed at the good of the country."
He called for the war in Syria to finally end, noting that 2021 marks its 10th anniversary, and urging the international community to "address the causes of the conflict with honesty and courage and to seek solutions." He praised the U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and the extension of the START treaty between the U.S. and Russia.
He also called for disarmament efforts to extend to conventional and chemical weapons.