On Sunday Pope Francis issued a moving prayer for all those whose bodies have been hurt or exploited, including those who have suffered abuse and those who are sick, pointing to the high-profile cases of Alfie Evans and Vincent Lambert.
“Every offense or wound or violence against the body of our neighbor is an outrage to God the creator,” the pope said April 15, pointing to the children, women and elderly who are “mistreated in the body.”
“In the flesh of these people we find the flesh of Christ,” he 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.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during his Sunday Regina Coeli address, which he prays during Easter instead of the Angelus.
His words come just days after he issued an apology for having made “serious errors” in the Chilean sexual abuse crisis, promising to meet with survivors and the nation's bishops.
In his Regina Coeli address, the pope noted how when Jesus appears to the disciples in the day's Gospel reading from Luke, at first they think he is a ghost. “But the Risen Jesus is not a ghost, he is a man with body and spirit,” and he shows the disciples this by eating a fish, the pope said.
Speaking directly about the body, Francis said the resurrection brings to light the Christian perspective about the body, which he said “is not an obstacle or a prison for the soul,” but is a gift created by God, and as such, “man is not complete if he is not a union of body and soul.”
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead in body and spirit means Christians should have a positive idea about the body, he said, noting that while the body can become an occasion for sin resulting from our “moral weakness,” it is also a “marvelous gift” that reflects our likeness to God.
Because of this, “we are called to have great respect and care for our bodies and that of others,” he said, adding that in a world where “too often arrogance against the weakest prevails and materialism suffocates the spirit,” today's Gospel reading is an invitation to go deeper, and to be men and women full of wonder and joy for having met the Risen Lord.
After leading pilgrims in the Regina Coeli, Pope Francis made several pleas for prayer on behalf of those who are suffering either from illness, or from war.
He made an appeal for pilgrims to pray for “the people, such as Vincent Lambert in Francis, 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.”
The reference was to two specific cases currently circulating in the international news cycle. Alfie Evans, 23 months, suffers from an unidentified degenerative neurological condition, has been under continuous hospitalization since December 2016.
In February, the court ruled that Alder Hey Children's Hospital, where Evans is receiving care, could legally stop treatment for Alfie against his parent’s wishes, arguing that continuing treatment is not in his best interest, and that his life support should be switched off.
Despite the desire for Alfie's parents, Kate James and Tom Evans, to take their son to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, several judges have ruled in the hospital's favor.
The case has drawn international attention, and protesters gathered outside the Liverpool hospital Thursday and Friday to peacefully oppose the decision.
Evans and James recently launched a new legal challenge, asking the Court of Appeal judges to continue life support and treatment for Alfie. The court officials posted their hearing for Monday, saying that a court judge has decided that Alfie could continue treatment, pending the hearing.
In the case of Vincent Lambert, a severely disabled Frenchman without a terminal illness, courts have decided that the Sebastopol Hospital in Reims can remove Lambert's food and water April 19.
Lambert suffered severe head injuries after a tragic car accident in 2008, and as a result has been a quadriplegic and severely disabled for 10 years. Yet despite his injuries, other doctors and his parents have insisted that Lambert is not sick, nor is he in a coma. They argue that he breathes unassisted and his internal organs function normally.
However, despite these arguments, the hospital ruled that continuing to feed and hydrate Lambert constituted “unreasonable obstinacy” toward him, and said that his feeding tubes ought to be taken out.
These and similar cases are “delicate situations, very painful and complex,” Francis said, and asked faithful to pray with him that every person who is 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.”
He also offered prayers for three Ecuadorean men who were recently kidnapped and killed along the Ecuador-Colombia border, voicing his closeness to their families and praying for peace and unity in the area.
Francis then prayed for areas of the world torn by conflict “despite the instruments available to the international community,” and pointed specifically to Syria, where conflict has again flared up in recent days.
A fresh round of threats began when the United States and their allies in France and the UK on Friday ordered a series of bombings on chemical facilities in Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack allegedly carried out last week by Syrian President Bahsar al-Assad which killed more than 40 civilians.
World leaders immediately reacted supporting both sides, with Syria promising retaliation, and U.S. President Donald Trump threatening further attacks if Assad does not stop using chemical weapons on civilians.
In his Regina Coeli address, Francis said he is “deeply troubled” by ongoing global conflict, and invited all men and women of goodwill to continue to “incessantly pray for peace.” He issued a fresh appeal to political leaders, “so that justice and peace will prevail” over violence.