Are we doing enough to keep the pandemic alive?

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Nearly five months ago, on May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization declared an end to the global COVID health emergency. After three long years, the government no longer considered us to be living in a pandemic.

It was good to hear. The fear, the anxiety, the illness and the death that swept over the planet along with the coronavirus pandemic was like something out of a Hollywood screenplay. For the millions upon millions of people who suffered through those years, the phrase “in these uncertain times” should now come with a trigger warning.

I’m being cutesy, but of course, this was serious business, especially to those who lost loved ones or whose lives continue to be disturbed due to long COVID.

And yet, for many of us, the pandemic brought with it thin, but very real, silver linings. We spent more time checking in with loved ones. We rediscovered hobbies and quality family time. Suddenly working from home, I got to see my daughter take her first steps. And we, as Catholics, made more time for God.

Increase of faith

This last point isn’t just anecdotal, although most of us could probably give an example of how we turned to our faith more during those crazy months and years. (The image of Pope Francis on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica blessing the world via livestream with the Blessed Sacrament has become iconic of the time.) Rather, it is borne out in research released in August by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

The pandemic achieved what a lot of evangelization campaigns over the past 20 years weren’t as successful at doing, said Mark Gray, a research associate professor at Georgetown University and CARA’s director, in a recent webinar hosted by the Catholic Media Association. With parishes shut down, Catholics were forced into finding new ways to remain connected to their faith, resulting in “a real change of habits,” he said.

People of all ages started attending virtual Bible study groups, discussing the Faith in online forums, engaging the parish pastor on Zoom, searching on faith-related content on social media or apps, or reading Scripture online. “When prayer wasn’t necessarily available through Sunday service, they found it through Catholic media,” Gray said.

Thanks to the pandemic, more people began listening and watching religious content online. More Catholics began to engage with their diocesan or national Catholic news outlets (happy news, for us in the Catholic media biz).

I certainly did some of those things; maybe you did, too. And you might have other examples you would add to the list of how your habits changed during those strange years.

That good faith habits were formed during the pandemic is cause for rejoicing, for hope, and most definitely worthy of notation. But, now that the pandemic is officially over, and life has basically returned to “normal,” are we keeping these good habits?

Now what?

A helpful exercise might be to think back specifically to how our behaviors changed because we were in a time of pandemic. What did we make time for that might now have slipped off our radars (and I don’t mean creating the perfect sourdough starter or playing more board games — though those are worthy ways to pass the time)? If our prayer lives changed for the better during the pandemic, has that change maintained three years hence? If we made more time for spiritual reading then, can we say the same now? Are we watching or listening to the same amount of Catholic content as we were three years ago? Are we as connected with our parish communities — either virtually or in-person — now as we intentionally made the choice to be then? If the answers are yes — fantastic. If they are no, perhaps we could consider why not?

This question extends to our relationships, as well. Are we connecting with family in the same way now as we did then? Are we checking in on the elderly? Are we coming together rather than coming apart? Are we taking one another for granted, or are we cherishing every moment in the way that only a time of great uncertainty pushes us to do?

In other words, now that the pandemic is finally over, how are we keeping it alive?

Gretchen R. Crowe

Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News.