Pope Francis on Monday called political leaders to protect life from conception to natural death, and renewed his appeal for work to guarantee universal access to basic healthcare. He made the appeals in a broad-ranging annual “state of the world” address that focused on various aspects of the global coronavirus emergency.
“[E]ach human person is an end in himself or herself,” Pope Francis said, “and never simply a means to be valued only for his or her usefulness.” He said that persons are “created to live together in families, communities and societies,” in which all members have — and should enjoy — equal dignity. “Human rights derive from this dignity,” Pope Francis said, “as do human duties, like the responsibility to welcome and assist the poor, the sick, the excluded.”
“If we deprive the weakest among us of the right to life,” Pope Francis asked, “how can we effectively guarantee respect for every other right?”
Pope Francis made his remarks in his address to the corps of diplomats accredited to the Holy See, which had originally been scheduled for 25 January. He postponed the annual appointment due to a bout of sciatica.
“The pandemic forced us to confront two unavoidable dimensions of human existence,” Pope Francis said, “sickness and death.” He went on to say the pandemic has “reminded us of the value of life, of every individual human life and its dignity, at every moment of its earthly pilgrimage, from conception in the womb until its natural end.”
“It is painful, however, to note that under the pretext of guaranteeing presumed subjective rights, a growing number of legal systems in our world seem to be moving away from their inalienable duty to protect human life at every one of its phases,” Pope Francis continued.
“Concern for profit should not be guiding a field as sensitive as that of healthcare,” Pope Francis said. “[I]t is indispensable that political and government leaders work above all to ensure universal access to basic healthcare, the creation of local medical clinics and healthcare structures that meet people’s actual needs,” and see that all persons have access to treatments and medicinal supplies.
“It is likewise essential that the remarkable medical and scientific progress attained over the years – which made it possible to create so quickly vaccines that promise to be effective against the Coronavirus – benefit humanity as a whole,” Pope Francis said.
He encouraged state actors to do their part “to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccines, based not on purely economic criteria but on the needs of all, especially of peoples most in need.”
Pope Francis and his predecessor in office, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, have both received two doses, while Vatican residents and employees and their families are receiving their doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.
In an interview with Italy’s Tg5, Pope Francis encouraged people to take the preventive measure.
“I don’t understand why some say this could be a dangerous vaccine,” Pope Francis said. “If doctors present it to you as something that can be fine and has no special dangers, why not take it?” He said there is a “suicidal denialism” that he finds inexplicable, “but today you need to take the vaccine.”
In his remarks to ambassadors on Monday, Pope Francis quoted the 16th / 17th century Anglican cleric and poet, John Donne, saying, “No man is an island,” and, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Pope Francis said “responsible personal behaviour aimed at halting the spread of the virus” must accompany access to vaccines. “It would be disastrous to put our trust in the vaccine alone,” he said, “as if it were a panacea exempting every individual from constant concern for his or her own health and for the health of others.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare several crises, or aspects of a single manifold crisis, in addition to the health challenges: an environmental crisis; a crisis of politics; an economic and social crisis, and at bottom an anthropological crisis.
“Even as we seek ways to protect human lives from the spread of the virus,” Pope Francis said, “we cannot view the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person as less important than physical health.”
Noting that efforts to halt the spread of the virus have had significant implications for several fundamental freedoms — including religious liberty – Pope Francis said: “Freedom of worship … is not a corollary of the freedom of assembly,” but is “in essence derived from the right to freedom of religion, which is the primary and fundamental human right.”
“This right,” he said, “must therefore be respected, protected and defended by civil authorities, like the right to bodily and physical health.”
Pope Francis also condemned terrorism, noting that many terror attacks are carried out against worshippers gathered in their places of worship. “[T]he protection of places of worship,” he said, “is a direct consequence of the defence of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and is a duty incumbent upon the civil authorities, regardless of their political persuasion or religious affiliation.”
Pope Francis also called for greater attention to the scourge of domestic violence, encouraging civil and public authorities especially to support victims of domestic violence. “Women, often with children, are those who pay the highest price,” Pope Francis said.
“2021 is a time that must not be wasted,” said Pope Francis in conclusion. “It will not be wasted if we can work together with generosity and commitment,” adding that he is convinced “fraternity is the true cure for the pandemic and the many evils that have affected us.”
Image credit: Pope Francis addresses diplomats, 8 February 2021, courtesy of Vatican Media