Vatican Pontifical CouncilEvery other year, the Vatican Pontifical Council is held in Vatican City for the purpose of improving human health and well-being. From May 6-8, 2021, the Cura Foundation and the Science and Faith Foundation joined the Pope, influential scientists, Christian leaders, humanitarians, ethicists and lawmakers to discuss recent advances in technology and medical science that will make for a better world.

The Cura Foundation and the Science and Faith Foundation seek to improve global health by partnering with doctors and researchers who are nearing medical breakthroughs. At this year’s Vatican Pontifical Council, they and other foundations took center stage. The Cura Foundation’s mottos, “unite to prevent,” and “unite to cure,” described the purpose of the discussions. Here are five promising developments from the Council.

Top 5 Highlights of the Vatican Pontifical Council

  1. The solution to global health spending according to Dr. Mark McClellan, director of Duke University’s Robert J. Margolis Center for Health Policy. Recalling the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. McClellan explained why the U.S. and other wealthy countries need to increase their spending on aid for developing countries. He explained that meeting countries on their level will mean considering digital care, care teams, medicine availability and more. In addition, prioritizing healthcare equality will not just benefit developing countries, but wealthy countries as well. The U.S. will see minorities such as Black and Native people, who statistically earn less money than whites, gain more equality. Focusing on health equality for the world will lead to more open-minded communities and better quality of life for minorities.
  2. Pope Francis explains the union of mind, body, and soul. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union of the mind, body and soul is essential. Many factors can cause division between them, but unity encourages intellect and progress. Interdisciplinary research that works toward uniting mind, body and soul is the reason various leaders and initiators have been able to improve global health as they have.
  3. Sanford Health shares its findings on regenerative medicine. Many retired athletes and elderly people experience chronic joint pain that seems untreatable. However, Sanford Health explained that regenerative medicine can be useful in combating chronic pain. Regenerative medicine helps to speed the healing process and can especially aid practitioners in orthopedics. If regenerative medicine is integrated into care more widely, the physical quality of life will improve greatly for many people worldwide.
  4. Rick Anderson advocates for digital technologies. According to the president of DarioHealth, Rick Anderson, digital technologies are particularly beneficial for those with chronic diseases since they offer a wide variety of treatment options. For example, people with diabetes can use digital devices to test their blood sugar. Getting these devices to people who need them worldwide is a challenge, however. Anderson says the aid needed most in this scenario is internet access. Even low-speed internet can let people order what they need.
  5. New treatments for rare diseases. Dr. Michael Yeaman of UCLA has been studying neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare disease that disrupts proteins in the eyes and spinal cord and can lead to mobility loss. Different people can have widely different manifestations of NMO. Dr. Yeaman focuses on personalized medication to meet each patient’s needs. Dr. Jill Weimer, a senior director for Sanford Research, also discussed changing patients’ gene mutations as a cure for disease. While this possibility needs more research, it shows much promise.

The innovations in health and technology discussed at the fifth Vatican Pontifical Council will help minimize not only disease but also poverty. Worldwide improvements in health lead to fewer preventable deaths, more stabilized economies and more people finding jobs. Though this was the fifth Vatican Pontifical Council, it was the first virtual one, demonstrating that the Council is adapting to the pandemic and continuing to make a difference.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Help Reduce Poverty
In light of the global pandemic, Pope Francis has kept busy advocating for poverty reduction around the world. Francis spent the year 2021 mending relationships between the Catholic Church and the Middle East and offering support to healthcare workers. Here are some of the most important things the Pope did in 2021 to help reduce poverty.

Advocation to Reduce the Debt of Impoverished Nations

Pope Francis delivered a statement in April 2021 at a meeting that the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) hosted. Mostly, he discussed how impoverished nations should receive a greater share in decision-making for the international market. He also pushed for debt relief and reduction for nations struggling during the pandemic. “The pandemic, however, has reminded us once again that no one is saved alone,” Francis wrote.

He also stated that “a spirit of global solidarity also demands at the least a significant reduction in the debt burden of the poorest nations, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Relieving the burden of debt of so many countries and communities today is a profoundly human gesture that can help people to develop, to have access to vaccines, health, education and jobs.” The Pope’s statement highlighted the “ecological debt” all nations owe to the environment. He also remarked that ecological degradation and biodiversity loss are manmade issues. He asserted that the issue could come to a resolution if impoverished nations, generally the ones environmental challenges most affect, can put their finances toward combating it.

Francis Became the First Pope to Visit Iraq

With the events of 9/11 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long exacerbating Islamophobia, Pope Francis’s arrival in Iraq marked a new beginning for Catholic-Muslim relations. Nostra Aetate, which Pope Paul VI issued in 1965, decreed that the Catholic Church must examine its relationships with non-Christian religions. The declaration contains a section dedicated to Islam, which urges mutual understanding in the name of peace and freedom. Pope Francis attempts to follow Nostra Aetate and continues to extend respect for the Islamic religion. He desires to mend the relationship between the two faiths.

While in Iraq, Francis met with Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shiites, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pope also met with Daesh’s terror survivors and called for peace between Christians and Muslims. Pope Francis urged that Christians and Muslims let go of their past and work toward rebuilding Iraq.

Pope Francis has Continued to Donate Around the World

Throughout the pandemic, the Pope continued his charity work for healthcare workers and affected families. During his trip to Iraq, Francis donated $250,000 to families in Baghdad. Francis also extended support to a women’s healthcare center in India. In May 2021, Francis donated 20,000 euros to the Shanti Ashram women’s health and social center in Coimbatore, India, which supports around 50,000 women and children. The center had hosted an international online conference with a goal of raising 60,000 euros, but it fell short. Pope Francis donated 20,000 euros to make up the difference.

Pope Francis did not just donate financially, he also supplied several medical facilities with medical equipment. The Apostolic Nuncio in Colombia confirmed that the Pope sent PPE and four respirators to the San Francisco de Asis Hospital and the Santiago Clinic. The pandemic hit their area particularly hard. The Pope donated respirators to eight other countries as well, including Bolivia, Syria and South Africa.

Moving Forward to Help Reduce Poverty

Pope Francis has shown that generosity always comes first, especially in a global pandemic when poverty is on the rise. Under his leadership, the Catholic Church will continue to promote charity work and peace in the Middle East and help reduce poverty.

Camdyn Knox
Photo: Pixabay

COVID-19 in Brazil
Brazil, the largest South American nation, recently recorded 100,000 casualties from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The country now has the second-highest figure of deaths linked to COVID-19. They come after the United States, which has over 150,000 casualties as of August 2020. President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the effects of the virus out of concern for the nation’s economy. However, physicians working in the Brazilian Ministry of Health debated with him over the effects of social distancing. They also debated over the use of the controversial hydroxychloroquine on ill patients. Unable to come to an agreement with Bolsonaro, both ministers resigned from their position.

With conflicting views among Brazilian leaders on how to contain the virus, concerns start to rise. These concerns are about plans to mitigate the disease in Brazil, or the lack thereof. As the numbers increase, other leaders around the world have taken the initiative to halt the coronavirus’ spread in Brazil.

Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg’s Contribution

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish teenage activist prominent for mobilizing youth all over the world around the cause of global warming. She is donating $114,000 of prize money she received directly to efforts mitigating the coronavirus outbreak in the Amazon. She plans to send it to SOS Amazônia, a nongovernmental organization focused on protecting the Amazon rainforest. It also focuses on providing access to food, healthcare and hygiene to indigenous communities in the most vulnerable regions. This is not the first time Thunberg has contributed financially to weather the effects of the pandemic. In May 2020, she donated an additional $100,000 of the award money to UNICEF to protect children from the coronavirus. By aiding Brazilians’ fight against COVID-19, she hopes to bring awareness to people on the front lines affected by the climate crisis. This particularly applies to people in the global South.

Taiwan’s Efforts

The East Asian nation had a quick reduction of the virus during the early stages of the pandemic. It is also stepping in to contribute supplies in Brazil’s battle with the disease. Tsung-che Chiang, the nation’s representative to Brazil, donated 100,000 face masks to the residents of Manaus, a city suffering one of the biggest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Brazil. The masks will be sent by the Taiwanese government and distributed by the Manaus health department to public hospitals. This will protect medical personnel in the front lines of the virus’s battlegrounds. After Brazil, Taiwan has expressed interest in providing aid to other countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, under the Taiwan Can Help program.

Help from the Vatican

Vatican became aware of the lack of supplies in a hospital treating indigenous patients with COVID-19 in Brazil. As a result, Pope Francis sent a temperature gauge and respirator to the Campanha de Maraba Hospital that the apostolic nunciature in Brazil delivered. President Bolsonaro vetoed a law that would have provided indigenous populations with extra supplies and hospital beds due to their vulnerability to the virus. Because of this, the hospital was very much in need of the supplies. Pope Francis’ expressed affection for the Amazon made this contribution even more significant to the community near the hospital, which is predominantly Catholic. Including the aforementioned respirator, Brazil received three other respirators from the Vatican to subdue the spread of COVID-19 in Brazil.

Although the coronavirus’s presence in Brazil shows no sign of ending, neither have the efforts of leaders across the world. Numerous nations and authoritative figures donate their time and money to afflicted regions and organizations. Their efforts go toward organizations that provide much-needed aid to marginalized communities suffering from the virus. Once a unanimously-agreed-upon plan is formulated by the Brazilian government, a decline can be seen in the number of COVID-19 cases and casualties in South America’s largest nation.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr

Rome’s Homeless
Although homelessness is widespread in the streets of Rome, many charities and organizations seek to provide shelter and food to the city’s homeless. Among these organizations is a palazzo that others deem the “Palace for the Poor.” Pope Francis has blessed this luxurious building that seeks to shelter, supply hot meals and provide various services to Rome’s homeless population.

The Pope and the Poor

Pope Francis has always been a strong advocate for the poor. His hope for the church, when he became pope in 2013, was for it to be “a poor church for the poor.” After his election, Pope Francis has continuously advanced and supported initiatives to help the poor. He allowed for the burial of a homeless man alongside clerics, inside a cemetery within the Vatican. Pope Francis also initiated the installation of showers in public restrooms for the homeless.

The “Palace for the Poor”

Among Pope Francis’ many actions to aid the poor was the conversion of the Palazzo Migliori into a shelter for the homeless. Palazzo Migliori possesses the name of the noble family who donated the residency to the Vatican in 1930. It originally served as a home for single mothers, that nuns of the Calasanziane religious order ran.

After the nuns moved out of the Palazzo, there were plans to convert the vacant building into a luxury hotel. Given its prime location close to St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope delivers his sermons, it would have attracted many tourists and generated significant revenue for the church. However, Pope Francis personally requested the officer in charge of administering the poor, Almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, to turn the Palazzo into a shelter for the homeless. He blessed the Palazzo on November 17, 2019, just one day before the World Day of the Poor.

How the Shelter Works

Volunteers who work at the homeless shelter are from the charity organization, The Community of St. Egidio. They facilitate two hot meals per day – breakfast from 7 to 8 a.m., and dinner from 7 to 9 p.m. There are about 16 rooms available for the homeless with two to three beds in each room and 13 bathrooms that include showers.

Housing about 50 men and women, the upper floors are for sleeping accommodations, while volunteers serve meals on the second floor of the palazzo. The kitchen is open to volunteers making meals that distribute to the rest of the city’s homeless.

The building’s lower floors provide various services for the homeless. These services include forms of social support such as “computing, reading, recreation, and psychological counseling” according to an article by ABC news.

The Shelter’s Purpose

The purpose of creating the “Palace for the Poor” intertwines with Pope Francis’s belief that “Beauty Heals.” He believes that the beautiful nature of the Palazzo Migliori will play an important role in helping the homeless recover.

One of the shelter’s volunteers, Sharon Christner, echoed Pope Francis’ message in an interview. She said that “what is special about this place is that it’s not about maximizing dollar signs but giving people a really beautiful place to be, with the idea that beauty heals.”

Under COVID-19

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to Rome’s homeless and poor, the Pope and the Vatican have continued to offer aid and services. Throughout the pandemic, many of the city’s homeless have moved closer to the Vatican to receive these resources.

According to the Vatican, many resources such as “shower facilities, sleeping quarters, and food assistance to the poor and homeless” are still in place. The Pope’s “Palace for the Poor” has remained open, offering warm meals and a place to sleep to those in need. The shelter’s kitchen is also still in use as volunteers continue to make and distribute meals to the city’s homeless.

The “Palace for the Poor” symbolizes the Pope’s empathy with the poor and homeless. It stands as a symbol in Rome for charity, humanity and beauty. Under decorated ceilings and amid noble furnishings, Rome’s homeless find shelter among beauty and relief from the warm meals and services the Palazzo Migliori provides.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr

Hunger_in_Vatican_CityOn July 4, 2017, Pope Francis made a vibrant statement regarding the world’s suffering and hungry. He declared world hunger to be a direct result of nothing less than indifference and selfishness. Further, he saw the effects of these same problems in his immediate surroundings—there is hunger in Vatican City. Since the beginning of his service, Pope Francis has made addressing poverty, hunger and homelessness some of the most important goals for the Catholic Church in hopes to lead by example.

Due largely to the Catholic Church’s presence in the world’s smallest country, many of the poor and needy draw near to the Vatican. As the impoverished seek refuge, hunger is becoming a bigger problem for the Church to address. With Pope Francis at the helm of the Vatican’s efforts, the needy are being tended to with a vigorous priority.

Pope Francis has personally addressed hunger by appealing to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and pointing out the “uneven distribution of resources and the lack of agricultural development.” The Vatican has sponsored several refugees and their families facing the challenges of displacement, especially hunger. Further, the rest of Europe’s Catholic community has been encouraged to follow suit in accepting, housing and aiding those seeking refuge.

Contrary to tradition, Pope Francis insists on mobilizing the church by sending out the Vatican’s almoner. In the past, the almoner waits for letters from the poor for guidance on how to meet needs. However, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski has taken to the streets of Vatican City in attempts to help the poor and hungry. Krajewski’s method aligns with the rumors of Pope Francis instructing him to “sell his desk” since he would not be needing it.

One of the more controversial techniques to fight hunger in Vatican City came with a corporate lease of a Vatican building to McDonald’s in 2016. While some members of the Church and the Catholic community responded with alternative uses of the building, like housing the homeless, that attitude has since shifted as McDonald’s promised to hand out over 1,000 meals to the poor in their first six months of operations.

The 2030 Development Agenda of the U.N. reflects this same commitment of the Catholic Church. The fight for universal food security cannot be put off and Pope Francis recognizes that it is a demanding task. However, intentions to provide for everyone are not enough. Rather, people need to make a commitment to their country to increase the level of nutrition, to improve agricultural operations, to improve living conditions of rural communities and promote effective distribution of resources like food supplies. When a country is unable to provide for its people, then intergovernmental institutions need to step in. As Pope Francis said in his July 4 address, every person has a right to be free from poverty and hunger. Further, it is the duty of the entire human family to intervene and actually do something about it.

Taylor Elkins

Photo: Flickr;

Education in Vatican CityLocated in the heart of Rome, Italy, Vatican City is the smallest independent nation-state in the world. Its borders surround an area of just under 110 acres, and a majority of the nation’s citizens are members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. There are roughly 800 people living in Vatican City, and because of the religious practices of the Roman Catholic clergy, there is no annual birth rate. There is no primary education in Vatican City; however, the governing body runs over 15 institutions of higher education. Most of these schools are located outside of the walls of the Vatican, the Ethiopian College being the only exception. Operating within Vatican City, the Ethiopian College guides young African men towards priesthood. One of the largest Vatican-run schools in Rome is Gregorian University, a school which boasts 16 popes and over 19 canonized saints as graduates. Gregorian University was founded in 1551, and the university offers religious educations in topics like canon law and theology.

One cannot discuss education in Vatican City without mentioning the library. The Vatican Library represents one of the largest existing sources of information on the development of the Western world. In 1548, Pope Paul III became the first Cardinal Librarian of the Vatican Library, and it has since served as a tool in the education of thousands of patrons. The American Friends of the Vatican Library was started in 1981, and since then they have raised money and awareness for the treasure trove of information that is the Vatican Library. The American Friends of the Vatican Library is based in Orchard Lake, Michigan, and funds projects like restorations and repairs of the Vatican Library.

Vatican City is by no means a conventional country; however, it is undeniable that education is and has always been something highly regarded by the Vatican City government. Poverty and poor education go hand and hand, and the Roman Catholic Church operating in Vatican City has provided the tools for the education of millions of people since its conception.

Tyler Troped

Photo: Flickr

 Vatican_Refugees
The Vatican has taken in several Syrian refugees over the last few months. In April of 2016, Pope Francis took 12 Muslim Syrians from three different families into the Vatican as refugees. In June, he welcomed nine more Syrians as Vatican City refugees, seeming very symbolic to many individuals throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The refugees that were brought into the Vatican were very grateful for the Pope’s “gesture of hope” and some even went on to call him a savior.

Being a refugee is difficult but being a refugee in Vatican City is not only difficult but also very interesting due to the uniqueness of the situation. Here are 10 facts about Vatican City refugees:

    1. The Greek island of Lesbos is where many Syrian refugees are being held and where the Pope took in a portion of the refugees in Vatican City. Most of the refugees on the island of Lesbos feel as though they are trapped as prisoners in the neglected detention center. They are also constantly at risk of being sent back to Turkey due to a new deportation deal between the E.U. and Turkey.
    2. The refugees the Pope took from Greece on his visit in April consisted of three families whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war. After bringing these refugees to the Vatican, the Pope declared that he wanted to make a gesture of welcome for the refugees.
    3. Even though many thought the Pope’s action in taking in these refugees were on a whim, his actions were actually carefully thought out and had involved a large amount of planning and paperwork for not only the Vatican and Italy, but also Greece.
    4. The Pope’s refugees will all be taken care of by the Catholic charitable association, Sant’Egidio, which will help care for the families and assist them in finding work.
    5. When questioned about why these specific families were chosen to be taken from Greece to the Vatican, the Pope did not explain, but instead simply stated that: “They are guests of the Vatican.”
    6. Beginning in the summer of 2015, thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, journeyed into Lesbos after paying smugglers to make the brief sea journey from Turkey. This smuggling of refugees caused the E.U. to have a political crisis which, in turn, led several countries to either restrict or completely close their borders.
    7. The number of migrants coming into Greece has fallen significantly since Turkey agreed to take back all of the individuals coming into the Greek islands for billions of dollars in E.U. cash. Over 1.1 million people have covertly crossed from Turkey to Greece since the start of 2015, and hundreds have drowned in this journey.
    8. In 2015, the Pope appealed to all Catholic diocese in Europe to take in a refugee family. Unfortunately, the Pope’s appeal was ignored by the majority of individuals across Europe.
    9. The Pope continued to fight for refugees when he offered special praise for ordinary Greeks who have taken refugees into their homes. Other religious leaders have called upon the E.U. to provide more help for Greece in this migrant crisis.
    10. Currently, there are 20 Syrian refugees living in the Vatican, which consists of 1,000 inhabitants.

While the Pope has clearly been doing his part in the Syrian refugee crisis, the issue has not been solved. However, using the Pope as a model by taking in refugees to the Vatican and treating them with respect, many individuals in Europe and around the world should have a better outlook on Syrian refugees and how they should be treated.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Medical Unit
Revolutionary in more ways than one, the Vatican recently donated a mobile medical unit to the people of one of the most ancient cities on the planet. The unit tours Rome’s borders and offers free health care to those in need — including but not limited to immigrants, expectant mothers and children.

Pope Francis is a prominent voice for those in need. Regularly speaking out about people living in poverty, the Pope frequently stresses the importance and impact that the impoverished have on society.

The life-saving vehicle does its best to blend in — with Vatican City license plates and the Holy See’s coat of arms (two keys topped by a papal crown), the mobile medical unit is Roman through and through. Dr. Lucia Ercoli, director of the Instituto di Medicina Solidale, said that using Vatican license plates allows migrants living in inhumane conditions to experience the closeness of the Pope and the church.

Istituto di Medicina Solidale staff, a group of volunteer doctors, health care professionals and medical students, use the RV-styled vehicle to assist people in need. The vehicle serves a diverse group of people, including many refugee children who lost their parents during the dangerous journey from their home country to Italy.

The group has been active since 2004 and partners with other nonprofit groups and the church to create makeshift clinics that offer services to the poor. In the summer of 2015, the association started providing services to a church-run center for immigrants near a city train station. In one day, hundreds of people showed up for check-ups.

In March of 2015, the Vatican opened a “clinic for the poor” located near the colonnade. The clinic offered free medical treatment and services to those unable to afford basic medical care.

Additionally, the Vatican has provided access to showers and barbershops. In October 2015, Pope Francis and his fellow Jesuits converted an old travel agency into a dormitory for the homeless.

The Vatican mobile medical unit provides a more private setting for patients and includes more equipment. As of August 2016, the vehicle has accommodated more than 2,000 people near shanty towns and abandoned buildings while simultaneously paving the way for further developments in healthcare.

Jacqueline Venuti

Photo: Pixabay

John_Kerry_Vatican
United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, met with the Vatican on January 14 for an hour and a half to discuss issues facing the Middle East. Kerry and the Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolinm covered topics that ranged from Israel and Palestinian relations, the Syrian civil war and a possible meeting between Pope Francis and President Barack Obama.

John Kerry is the first Roman Catholic Secretary of State to visit the Vatican since the 1980’s. Kerry stopped by the Vatican on his way from Paris where he was at the Syrian Peace Talks with the UN.

The Pope has been very critical of the United States, debating whether they should invade Syria saying, “Violence and war are never the way to peace.” The current state of Syria was discussed at length, with the Vatican issuing a statement of support of the peace talks. Both men said the talks, ‘covered broad topics’ and were a ‘comprehensive conversation.’

Kerry hinted that there are plans in the works for a meeting between Obama and Pope Francis who have both expressed interest in addressing extreme poverty on a global scale. Pope Francis has further caught the attention of United States conservatives who criticized him for his focus on addressing poverty.

In a statement outlining his vision for the future of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open, there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor…may we never abandon them.”

Pope Francis has brought positive change with his plan to address global poverty. It is a welcome and refreshing change to have the religious leader proclaim that Catholics should focus more on helping the poor. The pope leads a religion with an estimated 1.2 billion people across the world.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Christian Today, USA Today, The Washington Post
Photo: Religion News Service