ROME – As parents in both France and England struggle with courts and hospitals over the fate of their critically ill children, Pope Francis on Sunday called for prayers for these “very painful and complex” situations.
The pontiff also addressed the conflict in Syria after Saturday’s U.S., UK and French airstrikes that came in response to a chemical weapons attack, expressing frustration that the international community hasn’t yet worked out a “common action” for peace.
Earlier, the pontiff cited the situations of both Alfie Evans in the UK and Vincent Lambert in France, but he didn’t take any direct position on the legal battles in either case.
“I entrust to your prayer people such as Vincent Lambert in France, little Alfie Evans in England, and others in different countries who live, sometimes for a long period, in a state of grave illness, medically assisted for their basic needs,” Francis said.
“These are delicate situations, very painful and complex. Let us pray that every sick person will always be respected in their dignity and cared for in a way adapted to their condition, with the joint efforts of families, doctors and other health care workers, and with great respect for life,” he said.
Francis was speaking at the conclusion of the Regina Coeli, the traditional noontime prayer that takes the place of the Angelus during Easter season.
As reported on Saturday by Crux, the parents of Alfie Evans, the 23-month-old boy in England with an undiagnosed brain disorder who is facing having his life support removed, will on Monday ask England’s Court of Appeal to allow them to take their son to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù children’s hospital in Rome for treatment.
On Wednesday, an English High Court set a date for the removal of life support for the child.
However, Alfie will continue to receive care until the appeal court hears the petition on Monday.
Tom Evans and Kate James, the boy’s parents, attempted to have him discharged from the hospital on Thursday night, “by formally withdrawing their duty of care.” They were prevented from doing so, and Evans was informed he could face arrest if he tried again.
Also on Sunday, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, released a statement on the Evans case.
“I strongly hope a dialogue and collaboration can be reopened between the parents, understandably anguished by pain, and the authorities of the hospital where Alfie has been treated up to this point, so they can search together for Alfie’s integral well-being, and care for his life won’t be reduced to a legal battle,” Paglia said.
“Alfie must never be abandoned, Alfie must be loved, like his parents, all the way to the end,” Paglia said.
Meanwhile in France, a hospital has ordered the removal of food and water from 42 year old Vincent Lambert, who has been severely disabled for 10 years. The Sebastopol Hospital in Reims ruled on Monday that ordinary means of life support be removed on April 19.
Lambert suffered severe head injuries in an automobile accident in 2008 that left him a quadriplegic, but other doctors and his parents insist he is not sick, nor in a coma, breathes unassisted, and his internal organs function normally.
His devout Catholic parents have contested the decision vigorously. In a letter sent to French President Emmanuel Macron this week, Lambert’s mother, Viviane, wrote, “My son has been sentenced to death. His name is Vincent Lambert, he has a little girl, is alive, and has committed no crime.”
On Syria, Francis urged political leaders to get their act together.
“I am deeply disturbed by the current global situation, in which, despite the instruments at the disposition of the international community, it’s difficult to agree upon a common action in favor of peace in Syria and in other regions of the world,” the pope said.
“While I pray incessantly for peace, and I invite all people of good will to continue to do the same, I appeal anew to all responsible political leaders, so that justice and peace may prevail.”
The pope’s words drew applause from the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square.