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ROME – As blowback mounts to increasingly strict international vaccine requirements, Pope Francis in the preface for a new book by an Italian journalist called the vaccines a sign of hope amid a global nightmare and urged people to trust what science has to say.
“We must find hope and trust in science today too: thanks to the vaccine, we are slowly returning to see the light again, we are emerging from this ugly nightmare,” the pope writes.
The preface is part of a new book titled, “Beyond the Storm” by Italian journalist Fabio Marchese Ragona of Mediaset, and which is based on an interview that the pontiff gave to the outlet in January. The book itself will not hit the shelves until next spring, but the preface was released to Italian media in advance.
Throughout the year, as infection rates have fluctuated, vaccine requirements have steadily increased throughout Europe and much of the world, with many countries requiring a “Green Pass” proving vaccination for basic indoor activities.
As of Aug. 6, Italy passed a law mandating the Green Pass or a negative COVID-19 test for a range of activities including indoor dining, going to the gym, or to a movie or a museum, including the Vatican Museums, or to attend indoor concerts, among other things.
Shortly after, the Italian government mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, teachers, and professors, from grammar schools to universities, as a safety measure and to avoid school shutdowns if a COVID test came back positive.
There is talk of further extending these vaccine requirements as the summer winds down, possibly making the Green Pass a requirement to take public transportation, or to make it a blanket national requirement, which has been met with fierce resistance by some.
While in Italy anti-vax protests have largely been a flop, with few demonstrators showing up at gathering spots at the appointed day and time, in other European countries such as France, where a health pass is required to gain access to cafes, restaurants, museums, movie theatres, shopping malls, and long-distance transport, the protests have been larger, with more than 200 protests attended by some 170,000 people being held since Aug. 9.
In recent remarks, Italian president Sergio Matarella urged citizens not to use “freedom” as an excuse for refusing to get the vaccines, saying “freedom should not be invoked to escape vaccination, because that evocation is equivalent to requesting a license to endanger the heath of others and in some cases, endanger the lives of others.”
Those who refuse to get vaccinated, he said, with the exception of those who can’t get the vaccine for legitimate health reasons, and continue to lead normal lives “force all others to limit their freedom” through continued lockdowns and restrictions on movement.
Freedom, then, is more than individual independence, but pertains to the “common duty of solidarity,” Matarella said, and urged science to be supported “at all times and in all circumstances.”
In his preface, Pope Francis said the pandemic for many has been “the hardest moment of our lives,” but insisted on the importance of not abandoning hope.
Quoting a Sept. 20, 1978, general audience address by Pope John Paul I, whose beatification could be approved this fall, Francis said that hope “‘is an obligatory virtue for every Christian,’ which arises from trust in three truths: ‘God is omnipotent, God loves us immensely, God is faithful to his promises.’”
He noted that, thanks in part to the vaccines, general audiences at the Vatican have begun taking place with pilgrims again, which he said, “is a real gift,” because while technology has been helpful during long months of lockdown, “it is important to reiterate how fundamental the non-virtual meeting is.”
Pope Francis thanked the scientists who developed the vaccines, voicing gratitude for those “who have studied for many months the right combination to have effective vaccines,” and for the doctors, nurses, and volunteers who have cared for so many throughout the pandemic.
“The true challenge how is to commit to ensuring that everyone in the world has the same access to the vaccine,” he said.
Francis insisted that the vaccines “can save a lot of human lives,” and urged faithful to remember “what history has taught us with other terrible diseases of the past,” likely in reference to disease outbreaks such as smallpox, or polio, which eventually dissipated after the production of vaccines.
“It is time to roll up our sleeves and leave and start again, holding hands, looking our neighbor in the face and saying: ‘Let’s stick together, that’s how we’ll do it,’” the pope said in the preface, adding, “The boat will not sink if everyone is committed to rowing and keeping it afloat.”
“We ask the Lord for the grace of hope and to always praise him, even in this moment of pandemic, because that he is the faithful friend who does not abandon us and who loves us without measure,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen