The topic of the 10th Conference held online by the Social Action Programme in Spain on 12 February was: Post-pandemic society - lessons learned, challenges and commitments.
The meeting was opened by María del Carmen Aragonés, director of the TA sector in Spain. She spoke of the wisdom of choosing a topic that commits us to building the type of society we want to have. The pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities, but also people’s desire for life, truth and solidarity. She said that all of us in the Association must continue to respond in new ways with our capacity for innovation and networking, and to be involved at the political level in working for change with our evangelising engagement in which we place human persons at the centre.
The central topic was addressed during the morning by Óscar Mateos, a professor and university researcher. He has had experience on the African continent, is a member of Cristianismo y Justicia [Christianity and Justice] and is a former student of the Teresian Association. The second speaker was Graciela Malgesini, a university professor and expert committed to the fight against poverty and exclusion. With their complementary approaches, they both offered a panorama of the horizon that has been opened up by the current post-pandemic phase.
Consequences of the pandemic
Professor Mateos described some of the consequences of the pandemic which differ according to people and contexts. In the West where people are accustomed to the predictable, uncertainty has shaken people and society. However, in places more accustomed to living through crises, this is just one more crisis. He wondered if the pandemic would be a turning point that will bring about change. He pointed out that it is necessary to situate the pandemic in a wider context, and gave some examples. He expressed the need for a profound change in our civilisation, along the lines of what Pope Francis points to in his latest encyclicals and speeches.
In our search for solutions, Oscar Mateos continued, it is essential to incorporate the interdependence of all the inhabitants of the planet and eco-dependence. We must not fall into the temptations of political short-termism, of reactionary nativism that proclaims ‘those at home first’, of techno-optimism and others. These temptations lead to false solutions in increasingly complex circumstances. He also pointed out some ‘levers’ to help the pandemic to be a window of opportunity for change: the sense of reality that it brings us, the cost of false solutions in terms of social unrest, the fact that the ‘dogmas’ of neo-liberalism are being more vigorously questioned, and the emergence of a new social conscience centred on cities, community and care.
Social protection policies
Graciela Malgesini focused her speech on the social policies being advocated in the European Union as a result of the pandemic. These policies are supported by unprecedented budgets with the aim of offering an integrated response and not just assistance. She reminded us of the characteristics of poverty before the pandemic and pointed out the new profiles that have emerged in its aftermath. The lessons learned are that poverty is a social determining factor and also a health determining factor; poverty cannot be solved simply with employment policies or economic growth, but there must be public health policies (including those related to ageing), housing and appropriate taxation, among others.
She also mentioned how social protection policies and draft social legislation are being implemented in Spain. She drew attention to the potentially unfair transitions that could occur in the industrial and energy sectors.
Both talks concluded with a rich exchange in the room. Concerns were expressed about the difficulties in making change happen. There was also a call to trust in organised civil society and to move from the pessimism of logic to the optimism of will. “We must dedicate time to dreaming about the post-pandemic world we want and start by doing, as we learn from Poveda”.
During the afternoon, there were group discussions that focussed on seven questions. They then shared a summary of their group work in the plenary with words of agreement from the two speakers.
This intense and interesting day concluded with the word hope and a manifesto, the fruit of shared reflection.
TA translators team.