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Vatican hosts veneration of relics of 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya on first feast day

Icon of the 21 Martyrs of Libya. / Credit: Image courtesy of Tony Rezk, via tonyrezk.blogspot.com

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 09:03 am (CNA).

The relics of 21 Coptic martyrs killed by ISIS in Libya will be venerated in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday evening at an ecumenical prayer service marking their first official feast day in the Catholic Church.

The evening vespers at the Vatican will commemorate the ninth anniversary of the martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Orthodox men who were beheaded by the Islamic State on a beach in Sirte, Libya, on Feb. 15, 2015.

Pope Francis added the 21 Coptic martyrs to the Roman Martyrology, the Church’s official list of saints, last May as he met with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Tawadros II.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, will preside over the ecumenical prayer at 5 p.m. in the Choir Chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica. A Coptic choir will provide the music for the liturgy.

Following the prayer service, the Vatican Film Library will host a screening of a documentary about the martyrs, “The 21: The Power of Faith,” a film produced by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The martyrdom of the 21 men, who were mostly from Egypt, was filmed by the Islamic State and released as an online video showing masked fighters beheading the men as they knelt on a Libyan beach wearing prison-style orange jumpsuits.

The Egyptian government and the Coptic Orthodox Church later confirmed the video’s authenticity. In October 2017, authorities found a mass grave containing the bodies of the 21 men, who had been kidnapped in Libya where they were likely seeking work opportunities.

A Coptic Orthodox church dedicated to the 21 Martyrs of Libya was opened in 2018 in the village of al-Our in Egypt, a village that was home to 13 of the martyred men.

The Coptic Orthodox Church declared the 21 Coptic Christians as martyr saints within only a week of their murder in 2015 along the Libyan coast. 

Pope Francis’ inclusion of the martyrs in the Roman Martyrology in 2023 marked a significant moment in ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian denomination in majority Muslim Egypt.

The Roman Martyrology is an official list of the saints and blesseds, including martyrs, recognized in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The list is ordered according to the Church’s calendar of feast days.

“These martyrs were baptized not only in the water and Spirit, but also in blood, a blood that is the seed of unity for all of Christ’s followers,” Pope Francis said at the time.

The feast of the martyrs, referred to as the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya, is celebrated on Feb. 15 in both the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

During the Coptic leader’s visit to the Vatican last year, Tawadros II gave the pope the relics of the martyrs’ blood that will be used in Thursday’s liturgy.

“Today we hand over part of their relics, dipped in their blood shed in the name of Christ for the Church, so that they may be remembered in the martyrology of all the churches of the world, and know ‘we too’ are ‘surrounded by such a multitude of witnesses,’” Tawadros said.

“Precisely because the saints are one of the main pillars of our churches, beginning with the apostles Peter, Paul, and Mark,” he said, “we now write in the martyrology of the churches the new martyrs who have guarded the faith and bore witness to Christ, who did not lose heart in the face of torture and passed on to us a living example in martyrdom.”

Vatican announces theme for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has chosen a line from Psalm 71 -- "Do not cast me off in my old age" -- as the theme for the 2024 celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

In a note announcing the theme for the day, which will be celebrated July 28, the Vatican said the choice was "meant to call attention to the fact that, sadly, loneliness is the bitter lot in life of many elderly persons, so often the victims of the throwaway culture."

Pope Francis celebrated the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021 and decreed that it be observed each year on the Sunday closest to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus' grandparents.

As the Catholic Church prepares for the Holy Year 2025, Pope Francis has asked Catholics to focus on prayer, which is why he chose the prayer of an elderly person from the Psalms for the theme, the Vatican said in a statement released Feb. 15.

The logo for World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly 2024
This graphic for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly 2024 features the theme for the July 28 celebration: "Do not cast me off in my old age," a passage from Psalm 71. (CNS photo/courtesy Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life)

"By cherishing the charisms of grandparents and the elderly, and the contribution they make to the life of the Church, the World Day seeks to support the efforts of every ecclesial community to forge bonds between the generations and to combat loneliness," the statement said.

Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, said the theme is a reminder "that, unfortunately, loneliness is a widespread reality, which afflicts many elderly people, often victims of the throwaway culture and considered a burden to society."

Families and parishes, he said, "are called to be at the forefront in promoting a culture of encounter, to create spaces for sharing, listening, to offer support and affection: thus, the love of Gospel becomes concrete."

"Our communities, with their tenderness and affectionate attention that does not forget its most fragile members, are called to manifest the love of God, who never abandons anyone," the cardinal said.

 

No Dust, No Life – An Ash Wednesday Sermon On Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

One of the things I know about myself is that I am not a singer. You know it too. Some of you have told me I’m not. But did you know that I can play the trumpet and I’m pretty good at it?  Here’s what I mean by that. I remember a session in which […]

Analysis: Milei, Pope Francis embody contrasting economic viewpoints

Pope Francis meets with Argentina President Javier Milei in a private audience on Feb. 12, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

All eyes were on Pope Francis’ first meeting with Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, Monday at the Vatican. 

After all, in the past Milei had employed virulent language against the pontiff, calling him “nefarious” and “an imbecile,” among other invectives.

However, since his unprecedented landslide victory last November, Milei has proceeded to soften his tone and opted to construct a more conciliatory relationship with the 87-year-old pontiff.

In fact, there were no signs of rancor or resentment when the two leaders embraced in a viral photo on Sunday, Feb. 11, in St. Peter’s Basilica after the canonization Mass of Mama Antula, Argentina’s first female saint. 

The easy familiarity extended to their official bilateral meeting held in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on Monday, Feb. 12, where they spoke for over an hour, which is unusually long for official meetings between the pope and heads of state. 

Francisco Sánchez, the undersecretary of Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship — who was part of the country’s official delegation to the Vatican — said the meeting was full of “surprising aspects” and “took place in a very cordial way, with a lot of sympathy, with a lot of friendship between the two.”

One Argentine online news outlet reported that after the meeting, Milei said the pope “was satisfied with the economic and social support program” that his government has spearheaded since taking office on Dec. 10, 2023.

While both Milei and Francis hail from Argentina — both were born in Buenos Aires — they hold  radically different economic viewpoints.

The economic perspective of Pope Francis 

Since his election as pope in 2013, Francis has made social, economic, and ecological justice a defining concern of his pontificate, writing several papal documents on these themes, including his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in 2013, his seminal 2015 encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’, Fratelli Tutti in 2020, and Laudate Deum  — the second installment of Laudato Si’ — in 2023. 

In Evangelii Gaudium Francis condemned what he saw as the “new idolatry of money,” arguing that the myriad economic problems that the world is facing stem from a misinformed belief in “trickle-down theories.” 

The pope opined that this economic theory “has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Francis further criticized this view, denoting that it “sustain[s] a lifestyle which excludes others” and that “the culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase.” 

In line with consumerist attitudes, the pope noted that “the current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person.” 

“The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption,” he continued. 

This condemnation of consumerism and of the “idolatry” of money has become a common refrain during the pope’s speeches. In a speech to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements during his 2015 apostolic visit to Bolivia, the pope denounced the “unfettered pursuit of money” and even called it the “dung of the devil.” 

“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity,” the pope declared. 

In his paper “Francis and the Pastoral Geopolitics of People and their Cultures: A Structural Option for the Poor,” professor Rafael Luciani of Boston College argues that the pope “proposes that we move toward an alternative world order that is polycentric, one that recognizes the peripheries and that from the peripheries can create new ways of relating to both the global and the local.” 

The pope, according to Luciani, proposes “a more human view of the world” that dovetails with a call for greater “dialogue” when pursuing the common good. 

One of the most recent examples of the pope’s embrace of dialogue with disparate groups was his January meeting with representatives of DIALOP (Transversal Dialogue Project), an association of European leftist politicians and academics that seeks to bridge Catholic social teaching and Marxist theory. 

In this meeting, the pope said: “There is always a great need for dialogue, so do not be afraid,” while adding that “politics that is truly at the service of humanity cannot let itself be dictated to by finance and market mechanisms.”

In Francis’ native Argentina the economic situation is particularly dire as the country struggles with triple-digit inflation, a weak currency, depleted foreign currency reserves, and growing poverty. 

An analysis of the situation published in the New Yorker noted that “since 2000, it [Argentina] has defaulted on its sovereign debt on three occasions. The economy has fallen into a recession, and the inflation rate has reached 142.7%. Four out of 10 Argentines are living in poverty, and, in the past four years, the value of the Argentine peso has fallen by more than 90% against the U.S. dollar.”

Javier Milei, free market champion

When Milei, a libertarian and self-declared anarcho-capitalist, won the country’s presidential election in a landslide victory last November, it signaled a massive shift in Argentina’s political equilibrium and a radical shift in the government’s economic policy. 

Milei’s economic positions can best be described as neo-liberal, following the tradition of free market economists such as Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, who posit that limited state interference is necessary for economic growth and prosperity. 

Upon assuming office on Dec. 10, 2023, Milei promised to set in motion a series of sweeping economic reforms via his “chainsaw” plan, which included massive public spending cuts, reforms to public administration, and eliminating the treasury, the New York Times reported

For Milei, freedom is tantamount to economic opportunity and prosperity. During his inaugural presidential address, he stated: “The only way out of poverty is with more freedom.”

The 53-year-old economist repeated this call when he spoke at the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

At Davos, Milei gave a 20-minute speech in which he decried what he saw as the “danger” facing the West, which he argued was the result of “a vision of the world that inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty.”

Milei went on to condemn the “collectivist experiments” of the past 100 years, which are “never the solution to the problems that afflict the citizens of the world. Rather, they are the root cause.” 

In contrast to the pope’s statements in Laudato Si’, Milei argued that by looking at historical trends, it is clear that “capitalism brought about an explosion in wealth from the moment it was adopted as an economic system.”

“Free trade capitalism as an economic system is the only instrument we have to end hunger, poverty, and extreme poverty across our planet. The empirical evidence is unquestionable,” Milei continued. 

The pope, while not present at the event, sent a letter to the WEF’s founder, Klaus Schwab, on Jan. 17 where he touched upon many of the core themes of his pontificate, writing “the exploitation of natural resources continues to enrich a few while leaving entire populations, who are the natural beneficiaries of these resources, in a state of destitution and poverty.”

The pope also stressed the importance of harmonizing state policy and business practices to develop new economic paradigms that “by their very nature must entail subordinating the pursuit of power and individual gain, be it political or economic, to the common good of our human family, giving priority to the poor, the needy, and those in the most vulnerable situations.” 

In Milei’s Jan.18 speech at Davos, by contrast, he remarked that “the left-wing doxa has attacked capitalism, alleging matters of morality, saying — that’s what the detractors claim — that it’s unjust. They say that capitalism is evil because it’s individualistic and that collectivism is good because it’s altruistic.”

Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday: ‘Let us return to God with all our heart’

Pope Francis presides over Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2024 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis said that Lent is a time to look inward at our true selves and to share our deepest desires, worries, and weaknesses with the Lord in prayer.

In a world where “everything has to be exposed, shown off, and fed to the gossip mill of the moment,” the Lord is inviting us to “remove the masks we so often wear” and to see ourselves as we truly are in the sight of God, Pope Francis said in his Ash Wednesday homily.

“Precisely there, where so many fears, feelings of guilt, and sin are lurking, precisely there the Lord has descended in order to heal and cleanse you.”

“Let us acknowledge what we are: dust loved by God. We are dust loved by God. And thanks to him, we will be reborn from the ashes of sin to new life in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit,” the pope said on Feb. 14.

Pope Francis presides over Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis presides over Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis presided over Mass in the Basilica of Santa Sabina, a fifth-century church on Rome’s Aventine Hill where St. Thomas Aquinas once resided. 

The Mass followed a short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints. 

The 87-year-old pope, who frequently uses a wheelchair, did not lead the procession of priests and cardinals this year as he has in the past due to his limited mobility. 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims ahead of Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims ahead of Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged everyone to make more space for prayer in silence in Eucharistic adoration during the 40 days of Lent. 

“Let us return, brothers and sisters. Let us return to God with all our heart,” he said. 

“During these weeks of Lent, let us make space for the prayer of silent adoration, in which we experience the presence of the Lord like Moses, like Elijah, like Mary, like Jesus.”

“Let us not be afraid to strip ourselves of worldly trappings and return to the heart, to what is essential,” he said.

A short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints preceded Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. . Credit: Vatican Media
A short procession of priests and cardinals that started at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Anselm on the Aventine with sung prayers of the Litany of the Saints preceded Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. . Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Mt 6:4).

He quoted advice from St. Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th-century Benedictine monk and doctor of the Church who wrote in 1078: “‘Escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.’” 

“‘Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, O Lord, I desire.’”

The Basilica of Santa Sabina is one of the oldest basilicas in Rome that preserves its original colonnade and layout. The basilica is the first church in the traditional Lenten station church pilgrimage in Rome. 

Pope Francis receives ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis receives ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome on Feb. 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The 40-day pilgrimage to 40 of Rome’s most ancient churches dates back to the early fourth century and originally included daily papal processions in which people prayed the Litany of the Saints on the way to offer Mass at the burial site of the early Christian martyr assigned to that day.

“This evening, in a spirit of prayer and humility, we receive ashes on our heads. This gesture is meant to remind us of the ultimate reality of our lives: that we are dust and our life passes away like a breath (cf. Ps 39:6; 144:4),” Pope Francis said.

“The ashes placed on our heads invite us to rediscover the secret of life. They tell us that as long as we continue to shield our hearts, to hide ourselves behind a mask, to appear invincible, we will be empty and arid within.” 

“When, on the other hand, we have the courage to bow our heads in order to look within, we will discover the presence of God, who has always loved us. At last, those shields will be shattered and we will be able to feel ourselves loved with an eternal love.”

Pope Francis: Sloth is a ‘very dangerous temptation’ akin to apathy

Pope Francis delivers an address during his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 14, 2024 / 09:50 am (CNA).

During his Feb. 14 Wednesday general audience — which this year coincided with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent — Pope Francis reflected on the human dimension of the vice of acedia, more commonly known as sloth, observing that it is “an effect more than a cause.” 

Remarking that it is a “very dangerous temptation,” the pope reflected on how acedia, which is a Greek word meaning “lack of care,” encompasses a “psychological and a philosophical” dimension and can be linked to apathy — and even absentmindedness — which can have serious ramifications in our personal as well as our spiritual lives.

“It is as though those who fall victim to it are crushed by a desire for death. They feel disgust at everything, the relationship with God becomes boring to them, and even the holiest acts, those that in the past warmed their hearts, now appear entirely useless to them,” the pope observed to the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Building upon the human dimension of this vice, the pope outlined how in a contemporary understanding it can be closely associated with “the evil of depression,” noting that for those afflicted with acedia “life loses its significance, prayer becomes boring, and every battle seems meaningless.” 

For the pope, this apathetic attitude, or indifference, also begins when “a person begins to regret the passing of time and the youth that is irretrievably behind them.”

“If in youth we nurtured passions, now they seem illogical, dreams that did not make us happy. So, we let ourselves go, and distraction, thoughtlessness, seem to be the only ways out: One would like to be numb, to have a completely empty mind… It is a little like dying in advance,” the Holy Father added. 

The pope drew upon the example of the ancient desert fathers for inspiration, looking specifically at the fourth-century hermit Evagrius Ponticus, who referred to this vice as the “noonday demon.”

Reflecting on the monk’s account of this phenomenon, the pope said: “‘The slothful man does not do God’s work with solicitude,” adding that “it grips us in the middle of the day, when fatigue is at its peak and the hours ahead of us seem monotonous, impossible to live.”

However, for the pope the “most important” antidote to this tendency is what he described as “the patience of faith.”

Developing this patience on a personal level is predicated upon resisting the temptation to be “elsewhere” or the desire to “to escape from reality,” the Holy Father explained. 

“One must instead have the courage to remain and to welcome God’s presence in the ‘here and now,’ in the situation as it is,” the pope continued. 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his Wednesday general audience on Feb. 14, 2024, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Francis warned against the “demon” of this vice by emphasizing that it “wants to make you believe that it is all in vain, that nothing has meaning, that it is not worth taking care of anything or anyone.”

“How many people, in the grip of acedia, stirred by a faceless restlessness, have stupidly abandoned the good life they had embarked upon,” the pope lamented. 

Stressing that it is a “battle that must be won at all costs,” the pope drew upon the example of the saints where “in many of their diaries” we can see that they faced “terrible moments of genuine nights of the faith, when everything appears dark.”

The example of the saints shows us how to “get through the night in patience” and “maintain a smaller measure of commitment, to set goals more within reach, but at the same time to endure, to persevere by leaning on Jesus, who never abandons us in temptation.”

“Faith, tormented by the test of acedia, does not lose its value. On the contrary, it is the true faith, the very human faith, which despite everything, despite the darkness that blinds it, still humbly believes,” the pope said.

The Lenten Treasure Hunt

For many in the Church Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday. It’s forty days long, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. It’s a time to prepare for the new life that will be revealed on Easter Sunday. Lent is usually characterized by fasting, self-denial, and repentance. Even if Lent is not a […]

Pope Francis: Technological development must promote the human being

Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Academy for Life on Feb. 12, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 13, 2024 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican on Monday, stressing the importance of integrating “the resources of science and technology” while “promoting the human being in his or her irreducible specificity.”

The pope’s comments come as members of the academy are meeting in Rome from Feb. 12–14 for their general assembly, focusing this year on the theme of “Human: Meanings and Challenges.”

Noting that the academy will be looking at the fundamental question of “what is distinctive about the human being,” the pope opened his speech by underscoring the complexity of evaluating this question, especially against the backdrop of exponential developments in science and technology. 

These considerations, which the academy will discuss over the course of the upcoming days, present a fundamental understanding of “how the creativity entrusted to human beings can be exercised responsibly,” the pope observed. 

Stressing that this is fundamentally an “anthropological” task, the pope stressed that today “we are challenged to develop a culture that, by integrating the resources of science and technology, is capable of acknowledging and promoting the human being in his or her irreducible specificity.” 

“There is a need to explore whether this specificity is to be found even upstream of language, within the sphere of pathos and emotions, desire and intentionality, which only human beings can perceive, appreciate, and convert into positive and beneficial relationships with others, aided by the grace of the Creator,” the pope said. “This is ultimately a cultural task, since culture shapes and directs the spontaneous forces of life and social mores.”

The pope commended the work of the academy, which represents a plurality of voices in approaching ethical and social questions through the prism of “dialogue” and “a cross-disciplinary exchange.” 

“I can only encourage this kind of dialogue, which allows each person to offer his or her own reflections while interacting with others in a mutual exchange of views,” the pope said. “This is the way to overcome the mere juxtaposition of disciplines and to undertake a revision of our knowledge through reciprocal listening and critical reflection.”

The pope also commended the group for what he saw as their “synodal method of proceeding,” noting that it is a “demanding” process as it involves “careful attention and freedom of spirit, and readiness to set out on unexplored and unknown paths, free of useless attempts to ‘look back.’”

Placing this relationship within the broader context of the Christian tradition, the pope observed that Christianity “has always offered significant contributions, absorbing meaningful elements from every culture where it has taken root and reinterpreting them in the light of Christ and the Gospel, appropriating the linguistic and conceptual resources present in various cultural settings.”

Noting that this process of inculturation is “lengthy” and requires “an intellectual approach capable of embracing numerous generations,” the pope added that “it can be compared to the wisdom and vision of those who plant trees knowing that their fruit will be consumed by their children, or those who build cathedrals knowing that they will be completed by future generations.” 

During a Monday press conference after the audience with the pope, the academy’s president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, noted that “the urgency of the theme was imposed by thinking about our future as a human species, which today presents the risk of disappearing through self-destruction or overcoming.” 

“We have therefore placed the anthropological question at the center of this year’s work in a direct way, not least because it is becoming more and more insistent in public debate, not only in the ecclesial and academic spheres.” 

The Pontifical Academy for Life was established by St. John Paul II in his 1994 apostolic letter Vitae Mysterium as a way to study “the principal problems of biomedicine and of law, relative to the promotion and defense of life, above all in the direct relation that they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church’s magisterium.”

In recent years the academy has been at the center of controversy as some of its members have advocated views that are inconsistent with traditional Church teaching.

In April 2023, Paglia spoke in support of medically assisted suicide, calling it “feasible” despite the Church’s unambiguous stance against the practice. 

In October 2022, Pope Francis appointed the pro-abortion economist Mariana Mazzucato to the academy to serve a five-year term as an ordinary academic. Mazzucato has frequently expressed her support for abortion.

Pope names biochemist who contributed to COVID vaccine to Pontifical Academy for Life

Nobel prize for medicine laureate Katalin Kariko speaks during the annual Nobel Symposium hosted by the Swedish Embassy at the House of Sweden in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. / Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 12, 2024 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

A Nobel-prize winning biochemist and researcher who helped develop the mRNA technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines — Katalin Karikó — is one of the newest members of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

Pope Francis announced the appointment of Karikó, who lectures at the University of Szeged in Hungary, in a news release on Feb. 10. The pontifical academy, which St. John Paul II established in 1994, studies and provides input on the use of biomedicine in the protection of life.

Karikó, who was born in Szolnok, Hungary, received the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work to develop mRNA technology. The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute issued a news release saying she and co-researcher Drew Weissman received the award “for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.” 

“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the news release noted.

She thanked the pontiff in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“I am deeply honored that Pope [Francis] appointed me to be [a] member of the Pontifical Academy for Life,” Karikó said. “Last year, I gave a lecture in the Vatican on emerging biotechnologies. It was exciting to meet Pope [Francis] [in] a private audience with my family [and] he blessed my grandchildren.”

In a video message following her appointment, Karikó commented on her mRNA work. 

“Together with my colleagues, we built upon discoveries of scientists who came before us and we created optimal RNA suitable for therapy,” she said. “Never in a million years [would I] have imagined that it would have been used to create a vaccine to combat [a] global pandemic and eventually save millions of lives.”

Karikó also noted in her video message, which was posted on Feb. 11, that it was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. 

“I also think about all the young girls who may become inspired and want to be a scientist,” she said. “I would like to encourage them [to pursue those aspirations] and make better the world around them.” 

Karikó, like some of the pope’s other appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life, is not Catholic herself. When John Paul II established the academy through a motu proprio in February 1994, the then-pontiff wrote that he would appoint individuals who represent various branches of the biomedical sciences “that are most closely related to problems concerning the promotion and protection of life.” 

“[The academy] will have the specific task to study and provide information and training about the principal problems of law and biomedicine pertaining to the promotion and protection of life, especially in the direct relationship they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church’s magisterium,” John Paul wrote.

What did Milei and Pope Francis say to each other at the canonization of Mama Antula?

Pope Francis greets Argentina President Javier Milei in St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 11, 2024, at the canonization of Mama Antula, the first female saint from Argentina. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis and the president of Argentina, Javier Milei, spoke briefly at the Vatican on Sunday, Feb. 11, the feast day of the Our Lady of Lourdes and the day for the canonization of Mama Antula, the first female saint of the South American country.

“Did you get a haircut?” the Holy Father asked Milei as he greeted him in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Argentine leader was in Rome for the canonization Mass. Their encounter was captured in an EWTN News video.

“I tidied it up. Can I give you a hug?” the Argentine president then asked, to which Francis responded: “Yes, son, yes. Nice to see you. Thank you for coming … May God bless you very much.”

Next Karina Milei, the president’s sister and secretary general of his administration, asked the pope: “Can I greet you, can I give you a kiss?” After Pope Francis’ affirmative response, the woman told him: “A pleasure, it’s a pleasure being welcomed [by you].”

“Thank you for supporting him,” the Holy Father replied.

Then addressing the group that accompanied Milei, Pope Francis asked: “How’s work going?” to which the president responded: “It takes a lot of ability to handle things because of the roughness of the other side [his political opposition],” to which the pontiff replied: “God is greater!” 

“That’s true,” one of the women who was with Milei said.

As they departed, the Holy Father made his usual prayer request, this time to Milei and his entourage: “Pray for me; I pray for you.” 

“Thank you,” they responded.

“In just a little while we’ll see each other, tomorrow,” the pope concluded.

“See you tomorrow,” answered Milei, who said in an interview yesterday with Argentina’s Radio Miter that Pope Francis is “the most important Argentine in history.”

Milei was received this morning, Feb. 12, in a private audience by Pope Francis, after which he was scheduled to meet with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The Argentine president was also scheduled to meet with the president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, and then with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.