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Illness/Disease, Pandemic, and Hope – Considerations at the Time of Coronavirus

The celebration of Easter took place this year in many countries, as well known, differently than usual. In many countries, including the Czech Republic, participation in Easter Holy mass was not possible at all (and the only option was to watch the Mass broadcast online), elsewhere, participation was possible only with significant restrictions. But the sermon on hope sounded in these specific circumstances and specific context. It sounded inaudibly and urgently at the same time. Not surprisingly, the theme of hope at a time of covid-19 pandemic is gaining urgency. What role does hope play at times of pandemic? And what role does hope play in disease in general? I have no illusions that I can answer both questions satisfactorily in this short text. I will try only some points that shed light on this topic from several selected perspectives.

I will start with a few remarks on hope as such. On the one hand, Christian hope focuses attention on the horizon of the end of time, on the fulfilment of human life; on the other hand, hope aims to look at the current situation and the need for its active formation. Hope in a Christian perspective does not lead to inaction, but rather motivates commitment. Hope points not only to the fulfilment of every human story, but also to the path to that fulfilment. It points to the process of each person’s life story. It leads to a look into the future and at the same time to a look into the past, to honestly deal with memories and key life events, to form relationships. All that is being said is essential and significant for the situation of disease as well.

The current medical-ethical literature emphasizes that various levels or components must be taken into account for a comprehensive understanding of disease. The first level understands disease as a fact that can be described on the basis of methods of natural sciences. The second level points to the fact that disease is not just a scientific-descriptive concept, but it absorbs ideas of the society about what is considered a disease. The third subjective-personal level focuses on the subjective perception of the illness by the sick person. All three components of the disease need to be seen in mutuality. Hope plays an important role at the third level. What role can hope play in managing the disease?

Man, as a being of hope, relates to the future. He/She is aware that the future is very essential for him/her, he/she is aware that he/she can and should shape it today. At the same time, he/she realizes that the future is not available, that he/she does not have it simply in his hands, that he/she does not “own” it. Looking at hope in the process of managing disease, implies both a realistic view of the situation and openness to the unavailable, it implies both the recognition of borders based on the fact that we cannot “own” the future or predict it completely, and openness to the future – with the hope that whatever the future brings, one will be able to handle the situation.


Hope in a situation of illness is not only a principled openness to the future, but it also carries with it a specific attitude towards time. Hope includes respect for time, “patience, inner ability to trust in the maturing process” (Giovanni Maio). But respect for time and patience do not mean inaction. Hope is an impulse to actively shape the situation in which the patient finds himself/herself.

Hope liberates to a true approach to reality and its acceptance, but at the same time puts the situation into broader context. The potential of Christian hope lies in the fact that it relates to a specific experienced, current reality and at the same time transcends it. Hope shows new possibilities and places the situation in the context of a person’s life story and its meaning. Hope (espoir) in disease management is based on basic hope (espérance) which is closely linked to questions of the meaning of life and to the desire for a life filled with meaning. In this sense, the question of meaning is the basis of hope and is closely related to it. Hope in this perspective belongs to the concept of disease management, among other things, by integrating the disease into the life story of the person as such and shifting the focus from the symptoms of the disease to its existential aspects.

If the management of the disease presupposes the consideration of all levels of the disease and a holistic view of health, it is clear, that hope plays an important role here. However, at times of pandemic, hope could be an important orientation in many other respects, including many issues that fall into the area of ​​social ethics. What role does hope play at time of coronavirus?

The situation of a pandemic – in which a common threat lets people grow together and challenges them to rethink – asks us more urgently than usual which society we want to live in. Michelle Becka describes this in her reflection on the excellent blog on ethical issues concerning the covid-19 pandemic in precise words:

„In times of the pandemic, the risk of paralysis is great. Everything seems threatened and endangered, caution threatens to become paralyzing fear. But even if the endangerment of human life becomes more visible and clearer than in other times, it would be inappropriate and wrong to lapse into fatalism or resignation. If we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear, we are wasting the chance to shape reality. […] Hope sets us free to act. Hope gives us an idea of ​​it or to consider the possibility that reality might be different – in this horizon we can try to shape things.”

The German weekly newspaper Die Zeit recently pointed out that the survey on solidarity carried out by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in August 2020 showed that the feeling of social cohesion in Germany was strengthened during the pandemic crisis. While in February the proportion of respondents who saw social cohesion in Germany as threatened was 46 percent, the proportion of respondents with the same answer in June was around 10 percent smaller. Can the crisis lead us to shape our coexistence and our institutions in a more solidary manner? The answers to these questions are open. What is certain, however, is that to have the courage, to have the imagination to change things, to learn from the past and to be free to act belong to the essence of man as a being of hope. Hope has great potential in a situation of disease as well as in the current situation of pandemic. May we use the potential of hope.