ROME – There’s no such thing as a dull Saturday in Rome these days, with Pope Francis and the rest of the Vatican offices working at full steam, perhaps energized by the autumnal spring that the Eternal City is living this November.
Among other things, Francis delivered a speech praising his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI; sent a message to a conference on healthcare being held in Rome, reminding pharmaceutical companies of the right of access to basic or necessary treatment; and appointed the secretary for the upcoming synod of bishops on the youth.
He also had private meetings with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops; Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, ahead of the upcoming papal visit to the country; and Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, emeritus of Havana, Cuba.
Technically possible vs. morally acceptable
Addressing the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Francis praised the achievements of scientific and technological advancements, but cautioned that developments in the field, as in any human activity, must have limits, inspired by a sense of ethical responsibility.
“It remains always valid the principle that not everything that is technically possible or feasible is therefore ethically acceptable,” Francis said.
“Science, like any other human activity, knows that there are limits to be observed for the good of humanity itself, and requires a sense of ethical responsibility,” he said, adding that in the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, the true measure of progress “is that which is aimed at the good of every man and the whole man.”
The Nov. 15-18 plenary, titled “The Future of Humanity: New Challenges to Anthropology,” took place in the Vatican’s old synod hall. Among the 54 participants were Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the office, and the members and consultors of the council.
Among the topics discussed during the assembly were medicine and genetics, neuroscience, and the progress of autonomous and thinking machines. These, Francis said at the beginning of his speech, have led some to believe the world is at “a singular moment in the history of humanity, almost at the dawn of a new era and the birth of a new human being, superior to what we’ve known until now.”
In fact, he continued, the questions and issues “we are facing are great and serious,” and have been “partially anticipated” by literature and science fiction movies.
“For this reason, the Church, which carefully follows the joys and hopes, the anguish and fears of the people of our time, wants to put the human person and the issues that concern [the human person] at the center of her reflections,” Francis said.
The magisterium of Emeritus pope Benedict XVI, “alive and precious”
On the occasion of the presentation of the Ratzinger Prize by the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, awarded every year, Francis said that the work and magisterium of his predecessor “continue to be a living and precious heritage for the Church and for our service.”
This year’s recipients of the award are Lutheran theologian Theodor Dieter, the Catholic priest Karl-Heinz Menke, and the musician Arvo Pärt.
“Joseph Ratzinger continues to be a teacher and a friendly partner for all those who exercise the gift of reason to respond to the human vocation of seeking the truth,” Francis said in his remarks, delivered in Italian.
“The truth of Christ,” the pope continued, “is not for soloists, but it is symphonic.” It requires collaboration and sharing.
Seeking, studying and contemplating the truth together, in a charitable way, will draw those who do so to full unity: “Truth becomes a living source of ever closer ties of love.”
The award was recently widened to include a recipient from the world of arts, in addition to the traditional categories of theology and sciences. This decision, Francis said, “corresponds well to the vision of Benedict XVI, who so often spoke to us in a touching way of beauty as a privileged way to open ourselves to transcendence and to meet God.”
The pope noted in particular his predecessor’s sensitivity towards music. Closing the ceremony, Pärt played the Pater noster on Benedict’s former piano.
Compassion at the heart of healthcare
The right to healthcare is a question of justice, and it must be guaranteed, Francis said in a message he sent to the XXXII International Conference “Addressing Global Health Inequalities.”
Seeing the global inequalities in the access to healthcare, and the factors underlining it, “the Church cannot remain indifferent to this issue,” Francis said. “Conscious of her mission at the service of human beings created in the image of God, she is bound to promote their dignity and fundamental rights.”
The pope also praised the launch of an online platform that is projected to connect the Church’s estimated 116,000 hospitals, clinics and dispensaries around the world.
“A healthcare organization that is efficient and capable of addressing inequalities cannot forget its raison d’être, which is compassion: The compassion of doctors, nurses, support staff, volunteers and all those who are thus able to minimize the pain associated with loneliness and anxiety,” the pope said in his message.
He defined compassion as a “privileged way to promote justice,” since empathy with others “allows us not only to understand their struggles, difficulties and fears, but also to discover, in the frailness of every human being, his or her unique worth and dignity.”
Compassion, Francis said, is taught in the passage of the Gospel in which Jesus teaches the parable of the Good Samaritan who “sees” a person lying on the street, who’s been stripped and wounded, and is “moved with compassion.”
This compassion, the pope said, is more than pity or sorrow, it “shows a readiness to become personally involved in the other’s situation.” Even though a person can never equal God’s compassion, the pope said, “we can imitate that compassion by ‘drawing near,’ ‘binding wounds,’ ‘lifting up,’ and ‘caring for’ our neighbor.”
The pope closed his letter addressing pharmaceutical companies gathered in Rome, at the invitation of Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, organizer of the conference, to talk about access to retro-viral medicine for patients with HIV, focusing particularly on children from the world’s poorest countries.
He said that healthcare strategies aimed at pursuing the common good must be “economically and ethically sustainable,” arguing that even though they must abide by their own laws, including intellectual property and fair profit to support innovation, they must find ways “to combine these adequately with the right of access to basic or necessary treatments, or both, especially in underdeveloped countries.”
On the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the youth
Among several appointments made by Francis and announced on Saturday, were the naming of Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, of Brazil, as Relator General of the XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Da Rocha is the Archbishop of Brasilia and president of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. He was created a cardinal by Francis last year.
The synod on the theme “Young people, faith and vocational discernment,” will take place in Rome, Oct. 3-28, 2018.
According to a Vatican statement announcing the synod back in Oct. 2016, the chosen topic, an “expression of the Church’s pastoral concern for the young,” is in continuity with the findings of the two-fold synod on the family and Francis’s post-synodal document Amoris Laetitia.
The upcoming synod aims to “accompany young people on their way of life towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life project and realize it with joy, opening the encounter with God and with men, and actively participating in the building up of the Church and society.”