Coronavirus Outbreak

COVID-19 [info for partners]

SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 and your work.

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What information you can find here

On this page, plan:g lists several sources of information to help you better understanding the ongoing COVID-pandemic. Understanding the current challenges is necessary to be able to react appropriately. We need to learn from one another, in partnership. We share both technical information (medical treatment, public health) and thoughts that are relevant to believers (is COVID-19 a punishment?).

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a new type of corona virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The virus can be transmitted from person to person. By January 2020, the virus had spread from the city of Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei. On 11 March  2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic, a global epidemic.

COVID-19 is not only a health crisis. It effects the economy in unprecedented ways. The potential for political confrontations is high. Some EU governments took unilateral actions regarding emergency measures. Others are attempting to benefit politically from the pandemic. In some cases, the crisis is misused as a pretext for destroying democratic checks and balances, social standards, or labor rights.

God cares for anyone. What does that mean today? Church needs to protect and to heal. Church has to take responsibility for the health of individuals, and for democracy and human rights. This is about mercy.

Social distancing, a concept that works well in Europe, is a lot more difficult in places where people live under very different conditions. However, plan: g advocates a break from church services. In many partner countries, people continue to come together for church services. As there is no easy blueprint solution, this site is about the beginning of joint learning. A good practice is the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing.  

All links on this site have been tested and are secure. Please note, however,  that there is a growing risk of Internet fraud during this pandemic. 


COVID-19 is a humanitarian crisis. In your response, you need to apply SPHERE-standards.

Build on the the learning experience of the do-no-harm approach and follow your oath: Primum non nocere.  

In recent weeks we received a number of request concerning the manipulation of ventilators in order to allow for multiple treatment of patients. Sharing mechanical ventilators should not be attempted: Please refer to the joint statement of The Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF), American Association of Critical‐Care Nurses (AACN) und American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST)Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF), American Association of Critical‐Care Nurses (AACN) und American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST).  

MEDBOX developed a COVID-19 toolbox containing the latest situation updates, clinical guidelines, infection and prevention control measures, and infographics for the public. The tool offers resources in multiple languages and is constantly growing.

The Lancet Resource Centre brings together new 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) content from across The Lancet journals as it is published.

Learning in partnership: Catholic perspectives from Austria on power, the virus and G*d

In Austria, the COVID-19 crisis started in Tyrol. Hundreds of tourists contracted SARS-CoV-2 in Ischgl, one of Tyrol’s most popular ski resorts, turning the little town into a COVID-19 hotspot. On 5 March, Iceland officially declared Ischgl a risk area. 

However, it took the local authorities nine additional days to isolate the area. Ski operations continued until 8 March. Skiing is big business!

High-ranking church leaders supported the local government, protecting it against critics with strong and assertive words (via Facebook on 17 March: disgusting [...] notorious know-it-alls [...] make our country sick; in a church-service for the Tyrolean state holiday, 19 March: the search for those responsible is [...] hurtful, energy-consuming, pathogenic and like poison

Some of these statements have since been revised, showing church in its true color: We can learn.

It is clearly inappropriate to compare people exercising a fundamental right to ask political questions with a disease. The same is true when framing the response to COVID-19 in military terms (Donald Trump’s notorious war against the China virus being only one example). Language matters. Language is about power. Language can frame certain interpretations and sideline others. It is much easier to resort to heroic narratives of a military mobilisation than to analyse the complexities of the skiing business, environmental protection, health and our own involvement. Do we want to normalise war? Or do we want to reflect our individual being and our being as a church? COVID-19 is a desaster. And yet another indicator to re-assess, as Remco van der Pas put it some years ago, global health in the anthropocene.

In addition to this we highly recommend the following articles, reflecting the discussion within the Austrian catholic church concerning power, the virus and G*d. 

Is the Covid 19 pandemic a punishment from God?

In the current situation, the question of whether the Covid 19 pandemic might be a punishment from God is repeatedly being asked. The answer to this question, which goes to the very heart of faith and theology, varies depending on your perspective. Based on two statements in which the opinion is expressed that God is now punishing us for our sins, the theologian Dr. Bernhard Wenisch offers starting points for possible answers to these and similar questions in his text.

Is the Covid 19 pandemic a punishment from God? "Yes" – this position is developed in an Internet portal by the Italian historian Roberto de Mattei[1], who is known as a representative of strongly traditionalist views. He had also made similar comments on the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, referring to it as "proof of the existence of God" and "just punishment"[2]. God is infinite justice, he rewards good and punishes evil – not only in the individual man, but also in families, cultures and peoples. The individual already experiences this righteousness of God to a certain extent in this life, but well and truly, however, in eternity. Nations and peoples, as they do not have eternal life, would be rewarded or punished on earth. De Mattei does not shy away from drastic formulations: God "chastises" by "divine scourges", he takes "revenge" (according to Thomas Aquinas). He does this with the help of natural causes (such as a virus), but they are ordered and regulated by him – in this way the Covid 19 pandemic too can emerge as something similar – a punishment. But what is it imposed for? As a philosopher of history and theologian, De Mattei knows the answer: the great sin being punished here is the loss of faith of churchmen as a whole, with its dire consequences for the Church and society: the constant theme of all Catholic traditionalists who reject the ecclesiastical developments of the last 50 years.

"Yes and no," says Fr. Franz Schmidberger of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X in response to our question[3]. The "no" is intended to rule out the idea of a "vengeful" God. But then Schmidberger states that God is "avenging" his honour, because man has tried to put himself in his place through science and technology. From the Bible’s perspective, that God punishes sins is self-evident. Jesus, too, understood the demise of Jerusalem, which he had foreseen, as a punishment for the city’s faithlessness. In the later history of the Church, "war, epidemics, earthquakes and other terrible visitations were always recognised as God's punishment". God can play with the nature he has created just as effortlessly as he would a piano. In the event of fortunate circumstances, he plays with ease in the most beautiful major tonality. However, in the event of disasters he could also allow atonal music, if it was beneficial for the salvation of souls. For Schmidberger, the current Covid 19 pandemic is divine punishment for the spiritual and moral decay of society that has set in in recent decades. Here he highlights abortion in particular: a society that kills children en masse in the womb “has actually forfeited its right to life before God and provoked divine judgement".

For me, these two articles, which are similar to each other in their basic assumptions, raise questions that go to the very heart of faith and theology. Only starting points for answers can be given in this statement.

Collective misfortune as a just punishment?

Punishment should therefore be seen as an expression of divine righteousness, God's just response to sin – such as apostasy and the violation of fundamental ethical values. This punishment befalls a collective of people in the form of misfortune instructed by God and affects all who belong to it, indiscriminately and by blind coincidence: infants, children and adults, those who live responsibly and those who live irresponsibly from an ethical point of view, "believers" and "non-believers". If one really wanted to talk about justice here, the principle of "suum cuique" – to each his own – would have to be applied in some form. But what is happening here is the direct opposite. It really has nothing to do with justice.
Ultimately, punishment makes no sense if it is not understood as such by those it is directed at. Now, however, in the case of the Covid 19 pandemic, the vast majority of those affected are unaware that they are now being punished. Today things are different from the way they were in earlier times, when everything was perceived and explained from a Christian world view. Disasters were generally seen as God's punishment – but of course this would mean the acceptance of a permanent penalty, given the constant visitations that hit society. Today, "history theologians" such as De Mattei, who represent this view, tend to be more in the minority and are unlikely to be understood effectively outside their subculture.
You can therefore neither argue that collective misfortune could have something to do with justice, nor that it can be understood as punishment by the majority of those affected.

Does God “want” natural disasters, epidemics and wars?

This question strikes right at the core of theodicy: how can it be that God is good and omnipotent, and yet there are numerous evils in nature that animals and human beings suffer from, and there is evil in the human world? There is no easy answer here, but some key points should be mentioned.
When it comes to the Christian belief in the absolute goodness and goodwill of God towards man, we can safely say: God does not want people to be afflicted by evils of nature, e.g. earthquakes or epidemics, and even less does he want oppression, exploitation and war. So why then do all these things exist? We believe that God, as Creator, evokes everything and remains close to everything.
In the case of evil in the human sphere, the question is still relatively easy to answer. For the sake of human freedom, God does not prevent people from doing evil. Freedom of choice and action are inextricably linked to the human person. Without them, we would have no real insight and that is something I cannot demonstrate here. Freedom and love are also linked. So, if God wants the freedom of man and thus man in general, then he must accept evil as a negative possibility of freedom, "tolerate" it if you will. Traditional theology refers to this as "allowing".
Evils of nature exist because nature itself is also an autonomous entity. It acts by way of its own powers and energies in the formation and development of the universe and biological evolution. Human freedom, too, could not have developed without this independence of creation. However, this can repeatedly result in sets of circumstances experienced by animals and humans as evils (often associated with pain and suffering).
God does not want to stand in the way of human freedom. Even when people abuse it to do evil, for example to incite wars. Nor does he intervene directly in nature to prevent suffering. Nevertheless, he does not withdraw from the world, since he entered into it in the covenant with Israel and personally in the form of Jesus. He makes history through dialogue and by engaging with people. He actively approaches people in the revelation of God, particularly in the miracles, and also in phenomena of nature that allow people to experience him. In Jesus, God's Word has even become man, speaking, acting and suffering personally as this man, and the Spirit of God grasps people from within to inspire them to adopt faith and practise love.

God is close to us, especially amidst the challenges of the Covid 19 crisis

So, the Covid 19 pandemic is not a punishment from God. It is not sent specifically by God, but because of the serious impairments of all kinds that it entails, it belongs to the particularly challenging reality of life and creation that surrounds us. God is as present in the pandemic as he is in anything that we encounter. He wants us to face up to it and gives us the strength to cope with its difficulties. Here I am also thinking of the help we can give to our fellow human beings and the whole of society. But perhaps we should reflect our perspective of death. It also seems to me that, in such a crisis, shortcomings in the social system are particularly apparent[4], a factor which is particularly worth considering. People should then become more aware of this, for example of specific dangers posed by globalisation. Of course, it can also happen that social problems are then completely silenced – the situation of refugees, for example. I think there are also major challenges here.

The enduring sense of "punishment"

Our ethical decisions have consequences. Ethical failure (="sin") may bring us short-term benefits, but it harms others and ultimately ourselves. If we turn away from such a negative decision, i.e. "turn back", we still have to be reconciled with the people concerned and possibly make good the damage done to them. We also need to deal with the destructive consequences for ourselves. Negative attitudes that have arisen in us must be discarded. From the point of view of the believer, God expects him to process the consequences of sin, which also remain after conversion, and God relies on men’s capacity to cope with it. And also beyond death, since we must "take" many things that remained unresolved with our fellow human beings and within ourselves “with us” and be purified of them.
Thus, in this processing of the consequences of sin before and "after" death, I see the actual meaning of punishment. In this respect, the individual believer can also experience his own particular challenges in the Covid 19 crisis, which he has recognised in the light of the Holy Spirit through prayer and meditation, as an opportunity for purification willed by God. And this can also be applied to society as a whole: the epidemic is not a punishment imposed by God, but society is challenged to draw the right conclusions in this situation. In doing so, it can also recognise some undesirable developments as being such and break new ground.

Rethinking certain traditions

Biblical thought and Christian theology have repeatedly tended to see God's punishments as an external sanction. It was supposed to humble people and bring them to their senses. This also resonates strongly in the two texts at the beginning: "People must be left helpless once again ... and left with fear." (Schmidberger). However, this view should probably be blamed on hierarchical social structures that have not been questioned for a long time, and which have been transferred without being questioned to the relationship between God and man and are still being transferred in some cases.
Today we tend to regard any encounter between God and man as being "on an equal footing". God's creative power reaches its climax in the release of man, whom he wants to have as his interlocutor. When God judges people, he does it in such a way that he leads them from within – towards the knowledge of God. The "punishment" is not imposed from an external source but is the organic result of our own, human, self-judgment.

Bernhard Wenisch, April 2020
Original Article (German) reproduced with the kind permission of Bernhard Wenisch and mEinblick.

[1] In a special issue of the magazine “The 13th” published on 27 March, Stephan Frey of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X has incorporated key parts of the article (6-7) under the title “A Scourge of God?” See also: Alfons Adam, “The Crisis is a Sign from God!”, 8-9. In this special issue, however, the Covid 19 pandemic is generally played down. To cater for the public point of view, conspiracy theories are hinted at.

How the Corona pandemic is highlighting the crisis in the Church.

We are in the midst of a major crisis and people are not exactly flocking to the Church.

The opinion survey in the Kurier newspaper of 3rd April 2020 trying to find out how people perceive organisations in the current situation shows the Church in second last position with only 21% of responses being positive and 60% not (positive). The Federal Government, on the other hand, fared better with 77% of respondents giving them the thumbs up. Even the ÖGB, the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions, with 41%, performed almost twice as well as the Church. This gives many people food for thought and should also cause us to reflect.

A major story with the title „Faith or Knowledge?“ had already been published in the Kurier on 26th March 2020. In fact, I did not like the cover headline „The church is lagging behind and is merely discussing the meaning of Easter“ because it does not show what is really happening in the many parishes. Almost all parishes have launched neighbourly help projects, many have activated alternative communication channels to keep in touch with people, to provide solace and to address people’s concerns and troubles directly. Lonely and sick people are also contacted regularly by telephone, thus receiving mental and other aid. I am convinced that this intensive work at grassroots level is very important. And this work is being done by thousands of parishes and other religious communities.

„The Corona crisis will change the face of the earth, said Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on 22 March 2020 in the ORF Pressestunde programme. Of course, he was very much hoping that things will change for the better, „that the crisis will result in a rethink in economic issues but also in our own personal lifestyles“.
Certain aspects of globalisation needed to be corrected urgently, he stated. The Archbishop of Vienna literally said: „Do you really need to fly to London over the weekend to go shopping? Do you need to spend Christmas in the Maldives? Do there need to be luxury cruises with 4000 people on one ship? Do 200,000 airplanes need to be in the air every day?“ And when asked about the Church’s willingness to provide assistance, the Archbishop replied: „Of course the Church must continue to pay salaries and priests’ pensions. For people who have problems paying the church tax, we have always tried to find individual solutions, even before the present crisis.”

Cardinal Schönborn on 29 March 2020: „During the crisis, let us not forget the most vulnerable in society“. In response to a ruling from the Bishops Conference, dioceses are additionally providing 1 million euros for the Corona Emergency Aid Fund sponsored by Caritas. The aim, on the one hand, is to protect those who were already in an existential crisis before the pandemic. At the same time, we also have to help those people who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own as a result of the Corona virus. Thus, last year alone, Caritas was able to advise and financially support around 65,000 people in its 36 social advisory centres throughout Austria.

Still, I find that the Church is being somewhat backward about talking about what is, after all, its core mission. Is the Bishops Conference discussing steps and measures which can really help, bolster and rouse people in Austria and worldwide in these unprecedented times?

For example, concerning economic issues, in particular rent reductions in church– and order-owned properties for people who have now become unemployed, in particular families? No, so far the bishops have not – unfortunately as so often before – committed themselves sufficiently. I had already approached the Archdiocese of Vienna on this matter on 26 March but, unfortunately, I did not even get a reply. Where are the more far-reaching strategies which could help the Church to deliver its core mission more tangibly and decisively? Even international property groups are granting small businesses rent reductions, the Church, on the other hand, is not, responding with the terse reply that is has many expenses to pay. While the state is getting into debt to an unprecedented degree, the Church is worried about its reserves and the monasteries about whether they can handle their renovations. A contribution from the Church, which actually pushes its own financial limits, is distinctly lacking.

When has a bishop reacted when the supermarkets needed help, was there a rallying call to „Christians to volunteer to safeguard these system-relevant services for the general public?” No, nothing, nor were there any creative ideas as to where and how the Church could have got involved on behalf of the general public. Thus, what the Kurier wrote on 26th March was in fact correct: „The Church is lagging behind and is merely discussing the meaning of Easter”. So, it is hardly surprising that the Church performed so badly in this latest OGM survey. We are in the midst of a major crisis and people are not exactly flocking to the church. We must start this debate in earnest. What steps should the Church take? How do we jolt the bishops and responsible officials in the Church into action?

Tomáš Halík, a priest and theologian based in Prague, wrote the following in an article at the end of March:
„Perhaps this time of empty churches will act as a symbol, pointing up to the churches their hidden emptiness and a potential future which could become reality if the churches do not seriously try to present a completely different form of Christianity to the world. We have been far too concerned with enforcing the notion that the 'world' (others) would have to reverse its behaviour, when we should have been thinking of our own 'U-turn' – not just of an 'improvement', but of the transformation from the static 'being Christ' to the dynamic 'becoming Christ'.“

Yes, the liturgical year is now mixed up, and it is in our parish too. Lent without a night of reconciliation, without confession. Soon Easter will be upon us, but without the celebration of the Resurrection. Easter, however, will still take place without celebrations. For me, Easter this year more than ever signals a new spirit of optimism, to counter the negative mood with courage and energy and to be armed with new drive for any challenges which may arise. Because at the end of the day the Easter holidays give me time to have conversations with God.

The human race has been through similar and even worse situations in the past. In comparison with past traumas, we are enjoying a very very spoilt life. Anyone resigning with a pessimistic outlook does not have any faith in God’s work in people. Hope is not consolation that tomorrow things might become better but the ability to work for the success of a cause. V. Havel said: „Hope is the certainty that something has good reason – irrespective of how things pan out in the end.” And let us hope that the rethink in economic matters but also in our own personal lifestyles will actually happen, as Cardinal Schönborn has explained. Let us work to ensure that the Church seizes this opportunity at some stage.

Vienna, 6th April 2020
Heinz Hödl, Member of the Parish Management Team Cyrill & Method

Addendum 10th April 2020
Good news: Cardinal Schönborn stated today that „many people are experiencing severe difficulties. Therefore, the Church contribution should be reduced in individual cases. In addition, there can be deductions of rents and parental contributions in cases of hardship.” Hallelujah!


Wie die Corona-Pandemie die Kirchen-Krise aufzeigt.

Die große Krise ist da und die Leute wenden sich der Kirche nicht in Scharen zu.

Die OGM-Umfrage im Kurier vom 3. April 2020 zeigt die Kirche an vorletzter Stelle mit nur 21% als positiv aufgefallen und 60% nicht (positiv) aufgefallen. Die Bundesregierung dagegen ist zu 77% positiv aufgefallen. Sogar der ÖGB hat mit 41% noch fast doppelt so gut abgeschnitten wie die Kirche. Das gibt vielen zu denken und sollte auch uns zum Nachdenken anregen.

Im Kurier war bereits am 26. März 2020 eine große Story mit dem Titel “Glauben oder Wissen?“ erschienen. Die Titelschlagzeile „Die Kirche hinkt hinterher und diskutiert über Ostern“ hat mir zwar nicht gefallen, denn sie zeigt nicht was wirklich in den vielen Pfarrgemeinden passiert. Fast alle Pfarren haben Nachbarschaftshilfeprojekte gestartet, viele haben alternative Kommunikationskanäle aktiviert, um mit den Menschen in Kontakt zu treten, um Zuspruch zu vermitteln und die Sorgen und Nöte direkt anzusprechen. Einsame und kranke Menschen werden auch regelmäßig telefonisch kontaktiert und erhalten so seelische und andere Hilfen vermittelt. Ich bin überzeugt, dass es vor allem auch auf diese intensive Arbeit an der Basis ankommt. Und diese leisten vor allem tausende Pfarrgemeinden und andere Religionsgemeinschaften.

"Die Corona-Krise wird das Angesicht der Erde verändern", so Kardinal Christoph Schönborn am 22.3.2020 in der ORF-Pressestunde. Er hoffe freilich sehr zum Positiven, "dass es zu einem Umdenken in Wirtschaftsfragen aber auch im jeweils eigenen persönlichen Lebensstil kommen wird". Die Globalisierung brauche dringende Korrekturen. Wörtlich sagte der Wiener Erzbischof: "Muss man über das Wochenende nach London zum Shoppen fliegen? Muss man Weihnachten auf den Malediven verbringen? Muss man Luxuskreuzfahrten mit 4.000 Menschen auf einem Schiff machen. Müssen täglich 200.000 Flugzeuge in der Luft sein?" Und auf die kirchliche Bereitschaft zu unterstützen angesprochen antwortete der Erzbischof: „Freilich müsse die Kirche auch weiterhin Löhne und auch Priesterpensionen zahlen. Für Menschen, die Probleme mit der Bezahlung des Kirchenbeitrags haben, habe man sich auch schon vor der Krise stets um individuell Lösungen bemüht.“

Kardinal Schönborn am 29.3.2020: "In der Krise die Schwächsten nicht vergessen". Auf Beschluss der Bischofskonferenz stellen Diözesen zusätzlich 1 Million Euro für den Corona-Nothilfefonds der Caritas zur Verfügung. Dabei geht es einerseits darum, jene zu schützen, die sich bereits vor der Pandemie in einer existenziellen Krise befanden. Gleichzeitig ist auch jenen Menschen beizustehen, die nun durch das Corona-Virus unverschuldet in Not geraten sind. So konnte die Caritas allein im Vorjahr in ihren 36 Sozialberatungsstellen in ganz Österreich knapp 65.000 Menschen beraten und finanziell unterstützen.

Trotzdem finde ich, dass die Kirche sich zu wenig traut, von dem zu sprechen, was ihr Kernauftrag ist. Werden von der Bischofskonferenz Schritte und Maßnahmen diskutiert, die in diesen besonderen Zeiten den Menschen in Österreich und weltweit wirklich helfen, aufbauen und aufrütteln?

Zum Beispiel was die wirtschaftliche Komponente betrifft, insbesondere Mietsenkungen in den kircheneigenen inkl. ordenseigenen Objekten für jetzt hinzugekommene Arbeitslose, insbesondere Familien? Nein, die Bischöfe haben bisher - leider wie so oft – sich nicht entschieden genug eingesetzt. Bereits am 26. März habe ich mich damit an die Erzdiözese Wien gewandt, leider bekam ich nicht einmal eine Antwort. Wo sind weitergehende Strategien, die den kirchlichen Kernauftrag konkreter und entschiedener einbringen? Sogar internationale Immobilienkonzerne gewähren kleinen Geschäften Mietreduktionen, die Kirche dagegen nicht, sondern meint lapidar, dass sie viele Ausgaben hätte. Der Staat verschuldet sich in einem Ausmaß, den wir so nicht kennen, die Kirche ist besorgt um ihre Reserven, die Klöster darum, ob sie die Renovierungen stemmen können. Ein Beitrag der Kirche, der tatsächlich an die eigenen Grenzen geht, fehlt.

Wo hat ein Bischof reagiert, als die Supermärkte Hilfe brauchten, hat es einen Aufruf „Christinnen und Christen, meldet euch freiwillig, um diese systemrelevanten Dienste für die Allgemeinheit sicherzustellen, gegeben? Nein, nichts, auch sonst keine kreativen Ideen, wo und wie die Kirche sich für die Allgemeinheit engagieren hätte können. Somit stimmt schon was der Kurier bereits am 26. März geschrieben hat: „Die Kirche hinkt hinterher und diskutiert über Ostern“. Daher verwundert es nicht, wenn die Kirche in der aktuellen OGM-Umfrage so schlecht wegkommt. Die große Krise ist da und die Leute wenden sich der Kirche nicht in Scharen zu. Wir sollten diesen Diskurs ernsthaft beginnen. Welche Schritte soll die Kirche angehen? Wie die Bischöfe und Verantwortlichen in der Kirche aufrütteln?

Tomáš Halík, Priester und Theologe in Prag, hat in einem Aufsatz Ende März folgendes geschrieben: Vielleicht zeigt diese Zeit der leeren Kirchen den Kirchen symbolisch ihre verborgene Leere und eine mögliche Zukunft auf , die eintreten könnte, wenn die Kirchen nicht ernsthaft versuchen, der Welt eine ganz andere Gestalt des Christentums zu präsentieren. Zu sehr waren wir darauf bedacht, dass die „Welt“ (die anderen) umkehren müsste, als dass wir an unsere eigene „Umkehr“ gedacht hätten - nicht nur an eine „Verbesserung“, sondern an die Wende vom statischen „Christ sein“ zum dynamischen „Christ werden“.

Ja, das Leben in seinem liturgischen Jahreslauf gerät durcheinander, so auch in unserer Pfarrgemeinde. Eine Fastenzeit ohne Nacht der Versöhnung, ohne Beichte. Demnächst Ostern ohne Auferstehungsfeier. Ostern findet jedoch auch ohne Feier statt. Ostern ist für mich in diesem Jahr mehr denn je ein Signal für Aufbruchstimmung, mit Mut und Energie der negativen Stimmung entgegenzutreten und mit neuer Tatkraft für kommende Herausforderungen gerüstet zu sein. Denn schließlich geben mir die Ostertage Zeit für Gespräche mit Gott.

Die Menschheit hat Ähnliches und Schlimmeres bereits durchgemacht. Im historischen Vergleich haben wir ein sehr, sehr verwöhntes Leben. Wer sich nun resignierend zurückzieht, der traut Gottes Wirken im Menschen nichts zu. Hoffnung ist nicht Vertröstung auf morgen, sondern die Fähigkeit, für das Gelingen einer Sache zu arbeiten. V. Havel sagte: „Hoffnung ist die Gewissheit, dass etwas seinen guten Sinn hat – egal wie es am Ende ausgehen wird.“ Und hoffen wir, dass es zu dem Umdenken in Wirtschaftsfragen aber auch im jeweils eigenen persönlichen Lebensstil kommen wird, wie Kardinal Schönborn erklärt hat. Setzen wir uns dafür ein, dass die Kirche diese Chance irgendwann wahrnimmt.

Wien, am 6. April 2020
Heinz Hödl, Mitglied im Pfarrleitungsteam Cyrill & Method

Ergänzung 10. April 2020
Eine gute Nachricht: Kardinal Schönborn hat heute festgestellt: „In unserem Umfeld sind viele Menschen in schwere Bedrängnisse geraten. Daher soll in Einzelfällen der Kirchenbeitrag nachgelassen werden. Zudem werden Mieten und Elternbeiträge in Härtefällen Lösungen angeboten.“ Halleluja!


Weathering the crisis of faith with level-headedness

Spiritual life changes when church services and community work disappear. Modern theology must indeed acknowledge scientific knowledge, submit to it. Nevertheless, the Catholic theologian Magnus Striet said in the Dlf: "I do believe that it helps in the end to anchor oneself in God."
Magnus Striet in conversation with Christiane Florin

Christiane Florin: In normal times, we have reported often enough that the number of people attending church services is declining. Now, due to the Corona virus, hardly any church services are being conducted at all, at least not in the sense that believers gather in a church to celebrate together. The dioceses and state churches are largely following the commandments of politicians and scientists.

But that was and is not always the case. It can take a little bit longer for religious authorities to accept scientific knowledge, as the example of Galilei showed.

What does theology think of virology, what is now necessary for the salvation of the Christian life of faith and how systemically important are churches – I would now like to talk about such fundamental issues with the Catholic theologian Magnus Striet from Freiburg. His title already shows that he is the right one to discuss these matters because he is a professor of fundamental theology. Good morning, Mr Striet!

Magnus Striet: Good morning to you too, Ms Florin.

"A speech borne of a secular consciousness" 

Florin: You saw the Chancellor's speech last night. It was an appeal to reason and a request for taking care of each other and understanding of restrictions on personal freedom. Was it also a sermon?

Striet: Yes, you could say that from the rhetoric the speech had similarities to a sermon. But I would still assess it differently. It was a speech borne of a secular consciousness, an appeal for solidarity and humanity, an appeal and a consciousness that should be possible for all people of good will. We live in a secular state and the Chancellor is, of course, very aware that, for all intents and purposes, she must guarantee this principle.

Florin: Angela Merkel did not mention religious life in Germany, neither the churches nor the synagogues nor the mosques – which is quite astonishing as she is the daughter of a pastor. In any case, I already found out from my Facebook bubble this morning that believers found this offensive. I cannot ask the Chancellor why she did not mention it. That is why I am now asking you: what do you think, why has she not spoken about what it means for religious communities, but also for a society, when church services, Friday prayers, Shabbat celebrations and also community activities no longer take place?

Striet: Yes, it was very noticeable that she did not mention religious gatherings. Of course, at the moment there is a restriction on civil liberties, including collective civil liberties, and this also includes church services. And I also believe that it is perfectly legitimate to restrict these rights, because at the end of the day health is a very very precious asset. Religious freedom is also something to be treasured, but priorities are different at the moment. That is why religious freedom is currently being restricted.

It is very striking that both the Central Council of Muslims and the churches are not currently putting up a fight about the fact that key religious services are being restricted. I am more or less assuming that there is also a learning process here, a learning process that a secular state system or social system may demand that other factors are prioritised.

The Church is too scared to raise its voice.

Florin: Why is it intriguing that the churches are accepting the Robert Koch Institute?

Striet: Yes, this is very intriguing. And I am more or less assuming that they are going through a learning process, and perhaps it is also the case – here, however, I am only referring to the Catholic Church – that because of the severe crises that have been experienced in recent years, the Church is not daring to speak out very powerfully at the moment. But I am making the positive assumption that the Church has gone through a learning process and is quite simply accepting scientific knowledge and facts. That is why we are now submitting ourselves to these measures.

Florin: You say "submit" – that’s a strong word. Is it submission or, to put it a different way using emotive language, a victory of reason?

Striet: I hope that a victory of reason is in the offing. Auxiliary Bishop Schwaderlapp from Cologne has after all said that expert knowledge must be accepted. I only hope that this acceptance rate not only relates to viruses, but also to other scientific findings, including from the human sciences. But that remains to be seen.

Florin: With human sciences are you referring in particular to Catholic doctrinal statements about homosexuality? That the findings from human science should be acknowledged in this area as well?

Striet: Exactly.

"We have to talk about progress"

Florin: These are, of course, debates that, until a few weeks ago – or even a few days ago – were fought fiercely in the Catholic world, but which have now been swept under the carpet because of the coronavirus. This is also quite intriguing.

To put these debates back on a philosophical or theological level: We can now see more clearly than before that scientific and technical progress has indeed improved our lives, that much of what was once considered fate no longer has to be accepted – diseases have been defeated. But we can also see the limitations of science. It cannot do everything. We have just briefly criticised the churches and their relationship with science. Do you perceive science as more self-critical than the churches?

Striet: I don't know if I want to call myself a believer in science, but in the first instance I would like to advocate a strong pathos for the sciences. So, if we look back to past centuries, to the 14th century to Giovianni Boccaccio, for example, who was devastated by the calamity of the plague in Florence – it is estimated that 100,000 people fell victim to the plague. In this context, he speaks of an act of cruelty from heaven that was truly horrifying. So we can see how the tremors took place. And now we are beginning to rethink slowly but surely, trying to theorise the world, to describe it in order to derive effective means to combat such disasters.

The bottom line is that, of course, we always struggle with technological consequences, also consequences in medical progress, but the vast majority of people would not be able to grow as old as they can now in the 21st century if there had not been this immense success story. Therefore, of course, sciences always have limits, they are limited, they also step out into the open, they also take risks; and yet I firmly believe that we have to talk about progress. Without this progress, we would not have been able to fight the current epidemic.

Theology is sitting on the sidelines

Florin: Theologians, your colleagues, sit on ethics councils, and many of you – especially the Catholic ones – are critical of biotechnology. But now most would agree that a vaccine must definitely be found. The way I personally see things is, no matter what questionable technologies have to be used. Do you think that the current situation will also change the moral theological assessment?

Striet: That's a very fundamental question. I believe that it is really important to define precisely the fields in which bioethical issues are to be decided. When it comes to interventions in the human germline, the situation is certainly much, much more delicate than our current predicament of finding an appropriate vaccine or medication. But what has to happen will have to be decided precisely in these fields. There are no blanket answers.

Basically, I believe that there are no primary theological approaches to these questions at all, but that these are all questions that must be decided philosophically and ethically. And theologians might also have their – different – perspective on this subject, but sometimes it’s not advisable to immediately come up with creation-oriented or moral theological arguments.

It is a very, very difficult situation – and decisions will also be made somewhat blindly, there will be some leaps into the unknown. And then the consequences have to be evaluated again.

"To call Corona a punishment from God is cynical"

Florin: You used the term "primary theological" earlier. Particularly now, the following question is frequently being asked: what does theology or what do churches have to say that could not also have been said by the Chancellor or the Robert Koch Institute? I found various variants in the Church’s comments. There was a variant of “childlike faith” according to the motto: God protect us from the virus. A coaching variant according to the pattern: what can we learn from this crisis? And still, now even louder – the sermon of punishment: for what sins is God sending this plague? Does this concur with what you have been hearing? Or have you recognised or deciphered other theological patterns of interpretation?

Striet: No, these are the patterns of interpretation that are currently being brought up again. I will start with the last interpretative pattern.

To still be calling such physical evils and natural disasters a punishment from God in the 21st century is cynical and is not exactly evidence of intellectual effort. These are simply processes that take place in evolution and they have nothing, nothing at all to do with an act of God.

On the first question – or on the first possibility of interpretation – I would say that what can be observed at the moment is that the churches, the theologies perhaps also accept that the systems in which they live pursue their own rationality. The medical system has its own rationality and theology can say nothing at all about what is happening in this system. Theology only becomes relevant again – or only surfaces when there is a need to interpret the whole, that is, when the question arises: how can what we are witnessing at the moment happen at all? This is where the famous theodicy problem is addressed. But what comes before that, I would say, are all forms of logic that need to be considered within the respective system – and for me theology is not responsible for this.

The Creator of heaven and all destruction

Florin: Your colleague Günter Thomas, a Protestant theologian, asks his discipline, theology, some questions in a recent online article in the journal "Zeitzeichen". Among other things, the question about the image of God. Here too, in a nutshell: God the Almighty, God, the Good, God at the side of the powerless, God who, to quote a hymn, "governs everything so gloriously". I mean, it's all pretty hollow, even for believers who assume that God exists. What would a modern form of theology that can address the signs of the times look like?

The poet Ernst Jandl held God responsible (imago/gezett Deutsches Theater / Kammerspiele Ernst JANDL)

Striet: I would agree with my colleague on that. There is a wonderful verse by the late Austrian poet Ernst Jandl which speaks of "God, the Creator of heaven and all destruction".

If one is serious about the idea of a Creator God, then we have to admit that everything that befalls human beings in evolution must also ultimately be laid at his door: the end of a “child's faith”, a pure belief in praise. This means that prayer is also always permeated by lamentation, even accusation.

One can, of course, also ask the counter question whether people even wanted to be alive in the light of such epidemics, other disasters, and strokes of fate. This question is of course legitimate, too. But it will not help even believers in God to answer the question: Why this misery in the first place?

"There have always been changes and new movements in theological thought"

Florin: That theology currently does not have answers immediately to hand, that we cannot open a drawer just now and say: here’s a solution. Do you see this as a failure?

Striet: I'm not quite sure if we haven't been working on a theology for decades that actually addresses such questions seriously already. I always recommend Albert Camus’ "The Plague" to theology students as basic reading matter.

All these questions are already dealt with in this book which was published in 1947. Camus discards a “child's faith”, a belief that God punishes – and above all he breaks with the idea that physical evil is a penal consequence of a sin committed by man. In fact, theological concepts are there to deal with these questions. The question is whether they are actually admitted to the public arena. And whoever is responsible for not allowing them to be admitted.

Florin: But Camus is a writer, he is not a theologian in the first place? That is what I meant by a “failure”, that we cannot just open a drawer and pull out a theological book which could compete with “The Plague" by Camus. In fact, there is a great deal of talk about the plague right now – and also about this book by Camus.

Striet: Yes, but when it came to theology Camus was very well informed. He wrote his exam thesis about none other than Augustine. And with Augustine he was able to study all aporias, so to speak, and actually studied those that had caught on to theological thinking. And aporias which still harbour theological thinking, sometimes even to this day. Nevertheless, I think that in the 1970s, 80's, and also in the 1990s, changes and new movements in theological thinking had been around for quite some time – I recall the recently deceased Johann Baptist Metz, who warned against one-sidedly attributing all these evils to man or blaming them all on man.

"In the first instance worship is ethical practice"

Florin: In the last part of our conversation, I would like to return to what we were discussing at the start, namely the social and political significance of the fact that currently what we understand as church and community life cannot take place in the usual form. The Dean of Frankfurt, Johannes zu Eltz, declared in an interview the day before yesterday, in other words before the Chancellor's appeal, that church services are vital for him, that he feels restricted in his religious freedom if he cannot celebrate them. What do you think of this criticism?

Striet: Yes, I think very little of that. Of course, it is very important for believers to be able to attend their services. But we are in a different situation at the moment. There is a huge health crisis, a potential risk; and that is why I firmly believe that it is also legitimate on the part of the state to limit such freedoms at present – and also in this collectivised form, that is, in the form of communal church services.

If you look at the Jewish philosophy of religion of the late 19th century, and this continues to this day, religious services can also be defined in a completely different way: in the first instance worship is ethical practice. And there is a famous Jesus logion which reads: "If you want to pray, go to your room." In other words, especially in these times of crisis, I believe that there are very, very good ways of celebrating worship: this could take the form of neighbourly help or quiet prayer. There will also be times when worship and church services can be celebrated differently.

A religious empowerment

Florin: It is not yet clear how this pandemic will develop and when something like normality will return. How do you think an institution as big as the two churches can change during this time?

Striet: That is an exciting question, whether they will change at all during this time
– or whether the processes have not been running on a completely different level for a very long time.

From my own personal observations, I would say that firstly, the Christian/religious arena is extremely pluralised, i.e. it is even broken up in some cases.

And secondly, very, very many people have long been part of it in order to empower themselves religiously, to use a sociological term. In other words, they are looking for their own forms of worship. This could range from very quiet forms of worship to very quirky forms of worship, many very different ways.

I am not sure that this will really change the churches very much. But, of course, in the coming weeks it will become noticeable, particularly as the Holy Week and the Easter days are almost upon us, that there will be no major public services, and I am already curious to see how people will react.

"Understanding of the Eucharist as magic"

Florin: You can now also see pictures on the web of services, in which priests are celebrating alone, without a congregation. What does that say? That services can be held without churchgoers and that we are now preparing for a future in which the people's church has really met its end?

Striet: In my opinion there is more of a understanding of the Eucharist as magic behind it. Maybe – and I am referring solely to the Catholic Church now – the Eucharistic celebration is part and the highlight of church life. But I cannot seriously imagine a God who depends on priests worshipping alone. On the other hand, of course, it must also be said that there are people who have the need to communicate in some way, also to communicate spiritually, and who draw strength from it. It is just not my form of piety.

"Before God" in a world without God

Florin: The Chancellor, to come back to her, has urged us to remain level-headed. She has said that the situation is dramatic, but we should not let fear drive us insane. How can appeals help us to remain level-headed? What good does the appellative character of such speeches do in such a situation?

Striet: In any crisis situation, it makes no sense to overreact. And the Chancellor's appeal was precisely to resolutely follow the measures that have now been taken, but at the same time not to panic. So, for all intents and purposes both will be necessary.

And if I may say something else here as a theologian: there is a wonderful citation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom I admire more and more, and it goes like this: we will have to learn that we must live in a world without God – but do everything before God.

This "before God" means exactly what the Chancellor perhaps also had in mind, to let things happen with a certain degree of equanimity, to work decisively to ensure matters improve, but in the end to still have faith in God.

This has nothing to do with piety, but with taking the world's horrors seriously, but it also has to do with knowing that man is finite and limited in his capabilities. And if he then can, it makes sense to cling to a greater power, the power that people call God.

Florin: Does it help you to be a theologian in this situation?

Striet: Oh, that's a tough question. Nor do I know whether the question is addressed to a theologian or to a believer.

Florin: Don’t the two go together?

Striet: (laughs) Yes, that's an exciting question. I speak from the perspective of a believer who is also repeatedly attacked by doubts.

I do believe that it helps to anchor oneself in God at the end, because this also draws our attention once more to the fact that our own capabilities are always limited.

But, of course, I don't know what it feels like for people who say that everything is definitely over once your consciousness is extinguished. These are very complex biographical processes you are addressing. 

Florin: Thank you very much indeed. That was Magnus Striet, Professor of Fundamental Theology at the University of Freiburg. And he recommends "The Plague" by Albert Camus as reading matter.





Originalbeitrag auf Deutschlandfunk. Nachdruck mit freundlicher Genehmigung.  
Reproduced with the kind permission of Magnus Striet, Christiane Flori and Deutschlandfunk.

Data: understanding the dynamics of the pandemic.

Information is crucial. As there is a lot of false info around, WHO published a helpful myth buster.

Viruses can grow exponentially, not linearly. Exponential growth defies human understanding. In order to start understanding such a growth, we recommend watching this video (starting from minute 1'20).

The Austrian government publishes a dashboard with daily figures for Austria.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) publishes daily information concerning the situation in Germany.
International figures can be found at WHO and at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Check the dashboard of the African Union.

There are some differences between the numbers of RKI, JHU and WHO. This is due to several reasons. Germany is a federal republic. The federal states have their own reporting system. It takes time to accumulate the numbers, to report to Berlin, and to sort out the figures. The data from Johns Hopkins University comes from various sources and can therefore differ from those of RKI and WHO. In general, data inconsistencies in countries like Austria, Italy or Germany are quite small. They do not affect the overall perspective on the development of COVID-19 in Europe in a significant way. It is important to understand that RKI is slower in reporting than JHU, but more accurate on the German situation. However, when it comes to countries with weaker reporting systems, the JHU numbers are more accurate.  

In countries with weaker statistical systems, such as in East Africa or the Arab States Region, the reporting challenges are much bigger. It starts with the availability of testing equipment. As for the statistics of other countries, we advise you to check the relevant sites of the MoHs such as in Uganda, or to have a look at alternative resources (such as Wikipedia for Tanzania). However, it is essential to always cross-check these numbers with those of JHU, which are as of now most accurate for these countries.

Multi-lingual info on the disease (incl. Arabic)

The Austrian okay.zusammen leben provides multi-lingual information. So does the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection.

RKI publishes information on the virus in English

You can find multi-lingual information on COVID-19 at the Ethno-Medical Center Germany.

The German Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (BumF) provides information and a link-list with information in different languages. Notably, BumF links to the Order of Saint John (Johanniter), which provides information in Arabic, English, French or Turkish.

On the German site Infektionsschutz you will find informative videos in Arabic.
The German tageszeitung (taz) publishes comprehensive information on corona for Arabic readers.

Further info

The ACT Alliance provides an updated link-list on the coronavirus outbreak that includes the perspective  of faith based organisations (FBOs).  Relief Web and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have set up pages dedicated to the outbreak. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) provides for the Daily Africa Update that tracks cases, government responses, and media coverage on the pandemic in Africa. 

plan:g, together with over 140 other civil society organisations, demands to urgently prioritise international funding support for human resources for health in resource-limited contexts amid COVID-19.