Caring for persons, peoples and the planet in times of pandemic

A webinar held by the Vatican Covid Commission with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See to discuss the post-pandemic world. Here is the Note from the Holy See Press Office

Caring for persons, peoples and the planet in times of pandemic

"We must fight the fatigue that is everywhere in the world", without letting ourselves be crushed by the "spirit of resignation". "There are many challenges, but we have to be realistic to carry out our agenda: the cure is the hermeneutics of the moment". This was the comment made by the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, at the end of the webinar for the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See "Caring for persons, peoples and the planet in times of pandemic".

The event, held this morning for over an hour and a half, was promoted by the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, established within the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the request of Pope Francis (20 March 2020). 

The intention of the meeting was to focus on opportunities in building a better world after the pandemic, in the wake of Holy Father Francis' Encyclical Letters "Fratelli Tutti" (3 October 2020) and 'Laudato si' (24 May 2015). Despite the dramatic nature of its consequences, the Covid-19 made it even more evident that the individual needs care on the physical, mental and spiritual levels, while peoples need care on the cultural, political and social levels, just as the planet needs caring attention on several levels.

The webinar was opened by Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD), who first outlined the tasks of the five working groups that make up the Vatican Covid-19 Commission . Faced with a "global pandemic", he said, there is an urgent need for "a global effort to get out of it", beyond individual "national borders", because the virus has brought to light "so many fragilities" in the world. The cardinal then insisted on the responsibility that everyone should feel towards their neighbour, a "solicitude" that will allow us to "heal the future" with the saving power of faith. Finally, the issue of the vaccine was framed in an ethical perspective, through all its stages: from production to approval, from distribution to administration. Vaccine and treatment", concluded Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, "must be as inclusive as possible": "no one must be left behind".

Taking part in the meeting, moderated by Father Augusto Zampini, Deputy Secretary of DPIHD: Father Carlo Casalone, moral theologian and member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Sister Carol Keehan, former CEO of the Catholic Health Association in the United States and current coordinator of the Public Health Task Force of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission.

After reiterating the importance of an integral approach to address the immense challenges facing the world, Father Carlo Casalone insisted on the issue that everyone should have access to the vaccine, as also indicated in the Note of the Vatican  Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life "Vaccine for all. 20 points for a fairer and healthier world" (29 December 2020), avoiding the "pharmaceutical marginality" pointed out on several occasions by the Holy Father. The principles of "justice, solidarity and inclusion," he said, "must underpin any intervention in response to the pandemic.

No less important on this horizon are the ethical implications. Referring to the Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Morality of the Use of Certain Covid-19 Vaccines (21 December 2020), the Jesuit theologian reiterated that "when ethically unobjectionable Covid-19 vaccines are not available", "it is morally acceptable to use Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted foetuses in their research and production process". But there are also other stages of the vaccine life cycle that have ethical implications. Simple "commercial exploitation", for example, "is not ethically acceptable in the field of medicine and health care": "investments in the medical field should find their deepest meaning in human solidarity". "It is therefore essential to overcome the logic of 'vaccine nationalism'", concluded Father Carlo Casalone, "international agreements to manage patents are needed, and to be supported, in order to facilitate universal access to the vaccine and avoid potential commercial disruptions".

"The Covid-19 crisis has disproportionately affected the poor, and the current model of vaccine distribution threatens to amplify these inequalities," began Sister Carol Keehan in her statement. Hence the effort of the Public Health Task Force of the Vatican  Covid-19 Commission to promote "global cooperation based on a 'new universal solidarity'". In particular, Sr Carol Keehan spoke of "resources" to be made available to local church structures and organisations around the world. These include: clinical information on Covid-19 vaccines; a guide to ethical issues regarding vaccines; some teachings of Pope Francis on specific issues; and a guide for families.

During the webinar, participants were also invited to share their reflections, suggesting measures to develop resilience and unity. Among the themes that emerged was the importance of encouraging and supporting the international Covax initiative, Covid-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility, launched in June 2020 and led by, among others, the World Health Organization, with the aim of accelerating vaccine development and production, ensuring fair and equitable access to all countries around the world.

19 February 2021