As I read the various posts on social media over the last few days of 2020, it struck me that there was an overwhelming consensus of good riddance to 2020. The year that will be forever etched in the history books. The year that contained so much pain, and death. The year of lock down, economic despair, social distancing, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and isolation. There is no denying that 2020 was all of that and more.
When I reflect on 2020, the words of the great prayer from St Francis of Assisi come to mind. “Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”
Through the dark times and great sadness, there were many good things to happen. There were over 20,000 babies born in Northern Ireland from January to November 2020. The precious gift of children, bringing hope, joy, and new beginnings to many families. The cycle of life continued.
The sense of community and generosity displayed in our society was also very apparent. Pope Francis acknowledged those, “who, without making any noise, have tried to make the burden of the trial more bearable” Many of us began checking in on our elderly neighbours, going on grocery runs, and being more aware of the needy in our society. 2020 was full of works of mercy and charity, unspoken, done quietly with care and compassion.
In the same homily Pope Francis speaks of the tremendous work carried out by healthcare workers. We stood at our doorsteps, clapped, and put rainbows in our windows in true gratitude and appreciation of these front-line workers, many of whom made great personal sacrifices in the service and care of others. We saw again the goodness of people, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.
While lockdown had its obvious challenges, it did enable some of us to step off the rollercoaster that is rush hour traffic, commuting to work, driving to meetings up the road and allowed some of us more time at home with family. Eating together again, sharing housework, reconnecting with children, siblings or parents and falling in love with our families all over again.
2020 was good for our environment, people did not use their cars as much, the decline in air travel and factories stopping production led to cleaner air quality, NASA even noted that the decline in air pollution was visible from space. There was also a renewed interest in exercise, the great out-doors, and an appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation. This at such a critical time for ensuring the sustainability of our common home for without God’s gift of planet Earth, we have nothing.
There was a digital revolution. Elderly parents now know how to Zoom and Facetime but most striking of all is how the Church responded to the closing of its doors and the limitations of public worship during the pandemic. During lockdown, the rise in participation of public prayer was notable in the social media channels that I subscribe to, and in particular, to the praying of the Rosary. We walked each evening as a community through a different scriptural mystery led by Bishop Donal. This message was being beamed right to the place where we need to embody Christ most, our homes. The community outreach and various programmes that parishes initiated on their webcams was most welcome and has provided new opportunities for public prayer and worship.
Whilst there is no denying that 2020 brought great challenges to all of us in one way or another, we need to live our life in the here and now, following the example of Jesus, bringing light and joy in the darkness that is living through this pandemic. I believe that we can build on the goodness that came out of 2020, reassess how we live our lives, and look forward with the hope that is central to our faith in 2021.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1Peter 5:10)
Pope Francis New Year’s Eve Homily 2020 read by Cardinal Giovanni Battista
Roisin Rice is Acting Vice-Principal, Saint Mary’s College, Derry and a parishioner of Saint Eugene’s Cathedral.