Trying to transcend all the clutter about “shutdowns,” “rights” and “freedom” that threaten to take over public dialogue about how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed almost 1.5 million deaths in the world, Pope Francis said there is one consideration that should take precedence over all others.

“The virus reminds us that the best way to take care of ourselves is by learning to care for and protect those who are close to us,” he told participants in a video conference organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Vatican’s Academy for Social Sciences.

He also said the pandemic uncovers “the best and worst” of each person, but now more than ever, it’s important to recognize that the crisis can only be overcome by searching for the common good.

“Discrediting the other only succeeds in destroying the possibility of finding agreements that help alleviate the effects of the pandemic in our communities, especially on the most excluded,” he said.

The Nov. 19-20 seminar was titled “Latin America: Church, Pope Francis and the Scenarios of the Pandemic.”

Latin America has been especially hard hit by the pandemic because its health systems are relatively basic. That prompted governments to implement long, comprehensive quarantines that have devastated national economies.

Meanwhile, people often don’t have the resources to protect themselves. Living quarters are often cramped, making social distancing impossible. Water can be scarce, making basic sanitary practices difficult. As economies have imploded and jobs dried up, those living at subsistence levels are finding it difficult to survive.

“We know that along with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other social ills – the lack of a roof, the lack of land and the lack of work – that mark the level and these require a generous response and immediate attention,” Pope Francis said.

In his video message, Francis acknowledged that the world will continue to “experience the devastating effects of the pandemic for a long time,” adding that the “path of solidarity as justice is the best expression of love and closeness.”

“Please, let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” he exclaimed. “The path of solidarity as well as justice is the best expression of love and closeness. From this crisis, we can come out better, and this is what so many of our sisters and brothers have witnessed in the daily giving of their lives and in the initiatives that the people of God have generated.”