In some earlier articles, I have written about the time after the corona pandemic, when we get a chance to repair and rebuild, and change things that were wrong in the past. Today, I shall draw attention to some of those things again, but I shall also emphasise that there are many old things that we must preserve. All over the world, money, success, and competition have become important. We have forgotten to place the simple aspects of life highest; time and care for family, friends, neighbours, members of the same faith and others, including immigrants and refugees. In Pakistan, many old deeds are still kept, but others are in decline. In Europe, many things are gone. Now we have a chance to bring them back, renew and adjust them. When discussing this in today’s article, I will use life in an Irish village a generation or so back as an example, the way it was described in a BBC TV series.

We don’t want all of the old things back, but will now have a chance to consider what it is that is important to do, and we will discover that simple and less costly things are often more important than what we can buy for money. As always, we must do things that include everyone in just societies. During the pandemic, we are seeing that it is mostly ordinary people who make the wheels turn and carry the heaviest burdens, along with others, too. When life comes back to normal, we must include everyone better than we did in the past; we must build a more peaceful and all-inclusive world at international and local levels.

We are lucky that Ramadan falls at this time of year, in the midst of the corona lockdown. Just before Ramadan began, the Christian month of fasting, Lent, was held. Fasting means sacrifice, reflection, prayer and doing good. We have time and opportunity to reflect on religious and secular issues, this year, on how we can help people who have lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently. We should also sympathise with owners of industries and other businesses who are in difficulties, sometimes deeper than during the financial crisis in 2008.

I underline in my article today, as I have also done in earlier articles, that when we build back after the pandemic, we have opportunity and duty to change many things that were wrong in the past. We must always do the most important things first; we must be better at economising and sharing. God has given us the riches and resources that are sufficient for the globe’s eight and a half billion people, but we must find better ways of sustainability and sharing of the resources. We must define better what it is that is important for all human beings to live good lives. It is not only the ones who carry others on their shoulders who suffer; it is also the ones who are carried.

This spring we have had more to think and reflect than usual; daily life has become less hectic, sometimes even a bit boring. I have filled some of my spare time with watching TV programmes, news, documentaries, family series, and more. I traced one particularly good series that I had watched before, ‘Ballykissangel’, produced by BBC Northern Ireland and broadcast in the 1990s. It is about a young Catholic priest, Peter Clifford, and everyday life in the Irish village of Ballyk. Issues are small and big; some things are important to some but not to others. Even when people disagree, they continue to respect and tolerate each other as they also depend on each other. Some even return from the capital Dublin, with its prosperity and opportunities, and its noise and pollution, to the simpler life at home, yes, simpler but not less strenuous. However, the village gives a sense of belonging; everyone can count on their fellow villagers and neighbours for support and help when needed, and a bit of intrusion and nosiness when not needed. Yet, the little village is also part of the modern-time changes, which were many after Ireland in 1973 became an EU member and its economy boomed for some decades.

The stories in the TV series are set in the 1970s and 1980s, and that time, the Catholic priest was still a very important leader in the deeply religious Ireland. Today, it has become difficult to recruit young men into priesthood, inter alia, because of the required celibacy for priests, which has been part of the Catholic Church’s tradition for about one thousand years. Also, in recent decades, many abuse scandals have been revealed. Earlier, to be a priest was one of the most respected jobs for a man. In the large Irish families a few generations ago, parents hoped that one clever son would become a priest and another one a doctor; and the kindest daughter should become a Catholic sister. Today, many would probably want full gender equality.

I am a Norwegian, which is a secular, Protestant Christian country. In recent decades the role of the church has declined, and today, with twenty percent immigrants, Islam and other religions are also important. Although the role of the Protestant priest was rarely as strong as that of the Catholic priest, especially not as a community leader, religion did give guidance to people. What is essential is that religious leaders focus on aspects outside worldly success and wealth; they focus on justice and on helping the poor and downtrodden. Islam and Christianity are quite alike in these aspects. This year, on the International Labour Day on 1 May, the leader of the capital’s Labour Party spoke in a joint religious service in the Oslo Cathedral.

When we build back better, with innovations and changes, after the corona crisis, I hope that we will look at values in the old Irish villages, and in Pakistani villages. I hope that we look at what is good in today’s ways of organising societies, in the Catholic communities, in the truly Muslim communities, and also in the Scandinavian welfare states. I also hope that people in Europe and everywhere else can see that there is an important place for faith and religious leaders even in our time.

Religious leaders everywhere should do a bit more of what the young Father Peter Clifford did in the TV series I mentioned: holding up principles and giving advice, yet, without judgment or condemnation if not always followed; we must guard against being our neighbour’s keeper, and we must not be categorical. In the TV series, with the priest living in the midst of the Irish village, he is part of everyday lives, in sun and rain. The priest becomes an ordinary person, reflecting on sacred and secular issues. He is devoted to faith and principles, true to God and fellow human beings. We need such persons in our villages and cities even in the twenty-first century. When we rebuild after the Corona pandemic, we should indeed define how our societies should be, and we should find better roles for all leaders in a less materialistic world, with important roles for the religious leaders.