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There will be no return to a pre-COVID world; it has changed forever

Right now, we can’t physically gather in our churches, synagogues, mosques or temples. I want our doors to be open; they should be open for the life-giving nourishment and healing offered there. We will do so safely and carefully, but we need to be open so as to gather as friends with the God who loves us.

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The great challenge emerging is not how to keep people at home, but how to encourage them to interact fruitfully in the new context. Restoring social contact and connection, especially for the elderly and vulnerable, while practising physical distancing, is a key part of any path ahead. Finding the balance between protecting lives and livelihoods is also a measure of the treatment of every human life. Reaching for a “COVID-normal” must mean reaching for the common good, where no one is left behind and a place is found for everyone.

Both prayer and play are deeply humanising realities. Work and the care of others are good for humans. Families, who have had to work, live and be schooled at the kitchen table for months, have had to rediscover the best and the worst of themselves. The family – in all its nuances and challenges, griefs and joys – remains the fundamental pillar and source of order in human society. We neglect the family at our peril.

Family, religion, work, education, care and leisure: these should be our first and foundational priorities, the human measures upon which our pathway forward ought to be framed. The humanity behind the data cannot be neglected as we emerge from captivity. Each step along our path from exile must be taken in personal and civilising ways.

If these good things aren’t part of the horizon before us, then we are creating much trouble for ourselves. I, for one, will work so that our journey out of exile is oriented towards this humanising horizon. And like many of my friends facing the hard realities of this year, I’ll be placing my hope in the tender closeness of God who is accompanying us on the road ahead.

Peter Comensoli is the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne.

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