“In the flesh of these people we find the flesh of Christ,” Pope Francis said.
“Mocked, slandered, humiliated, scourged crucified, Jesus taught us love. A love which, in its resurrection, has shown itself as stronger than sin and death, and wants to redeem all those who experience in their own flesh the slavery of our times.”
His words were in reference to children, women and the elderly who are “mistreated in the body” - in particular, the Pope was referencing the cases of Alfie Evans and Vincent Lambert. His comments were delivered to a crowd of Catholic faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square during his Regina Coeli address.
In his address, Pope Francis made reference to when Jesus appears to His disciples in the Gospel of Luke and how Jesus’ disciples thought He was a ghost. “But the Risen Jesus is not a ghost, He is a man with body and spirit,” Pope Francis reminded the crowd.
The Pope used the story of Jesus’ resurrection to segue into speaking directly about the body and the perspective into which the resurrection puts the human body.
“It is not an obstacle or a prison for the soul,” the Pontiff said before reiterating that the body is a gift bestowed upon each of us, directly by God.
“Man is not complete if he is not a union of body and soul.” Pope Francis said.
Because our bodies are gifts the Pope said: “We are called to have great respect and care for our bodies and that of others. Too often arrogance against the weakest prevails and materialism suffocates the spirit.”
A prayer for those who are suffering from illness or war
After leading the gathered crowd in the Regina Coeli, Pope Francis requested the faithful pray for “the people, such as Vincent Lambert in France, little Alfie Evans in England and others in different countries who live, at times for a long period, in a serious state of illness, medically assisted for their basic needs.”
In his request for prayers, Pope Francis referenced two stories which have gained international attention.
Alfie Evans is a 23-month-old currently living on life-support after beginning to suffer severe neurological symptoms with an unknown cause when he was seven-months-old. Despite being born perfectly healthy, throughout the first seven months of his life he missed several development milestones which his parents and medical professionals chalked up to being “lazy and a late-developer”.
In December of 2016, Alfie caught a chest infection which caused seizures and forced him to be put on life-support at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. He has remained on life-support ever since. In February of this year, the court ruled that, the hospital could take Alfie off of life support against his parents’ wishes.
Vincent Lambert is a severely disabled Frenchman who sustained severe head trauma in a car accident in 2008. The accident left Vincent a quadriplegic.
Recently, courts ruled the Sebstopol Hospital in Reims could remove Lambert’s food and water effective later this month, a decision which would amount to allowing the 38-year-old to starve to death under medical supervision.
While Vincent’s wife and some members of his family believe Vincent should be allowed to die in this manner, his mother, Viviane, and many people throughout France, believe that because Vincent is not sick, nor in a coma and is able to breathe on his own, doctors should continue to feed and hydrate him.
While the courts have said Vincent’s food and water could be removed, medical professionals have been slow to act. Many supporters of the “death with dignity” movement have dubbed his doctor’s reluctance to remove sustenance an act of “Catholic terrorism”.
Speaking of the two cases, Pope Francis said “these similar cases are delicate situations, very painful and complex.”
The Pope went on to ask the faithful to pray with him for every person who is sick and asked that we pray the sick would “always be respected in their dignity and cared for in a way suited to their condition, with the consent of family members, and of other healthcare workers.”