July 14, 2017


Pope Francis, President Trump, and humanity’s mission of mercy

We’ve heard about the differing opinions Pope Francis and President Donald J. Trump have on some very important issues.

Immigration—including building a wall on the southern border of the United States—economic policy, and climate change all immediately come to mind.

But there is common ground, too. Both spoke of their hopes for world peace during a meeting at the Vatican in May, and both expressed a joint commitment to life, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

And most recently, the plight of now 11-month-old Charlie Gard of England has brought the world leaders to the forefront of those offering support to the infant and his family.

As has been reported by media outlets in recent weeks, Charlie was born with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness, brain damage and respiratory or liver failure. It is typically fatal.

His parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, have lost several legal battles in the fight to prolong the life of their son, including a request to send him to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome, or to the United States for experimental treatment.

Great Ormond Hospital in London and an independent guardian appointed to represent Charlie have argued that the infant’s life support system should be switched off, and that he should be allowed to die with dignity. Courts have thus far agreed.

It should be noted that parents in Britain do not have the absolute right to make decisions for their children. According to media reports, it is normal for courts to intervene when parents and doctors disagree on the treatment of a child.

The parents’ continued request to the hospital was to allow them to take Charlie home to die. That request has also been denied, and the hospital had said it would suspend life support on June 30—a date that has since been extended.

The official Twitter account of Pope Francis, @Pontifex, posted a tweet on June 30: “To defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.”

Pope Francis also later called for respecting the wishes of the terminally ill child’s parents, and expressed his closeness to them, saying he was “praying for them, hoping that their desire to accompany and take care of their own baby until the end is not disregarded.”

Trump used his Twitter account to offer a message of support.

“If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so,” the president tweeted.

Helen Ferre, director of media affairs at the White House, said, “Upon learning of baby Charlie Gard’s situation, President Trump has offered to help the family in this heartbreaking situation. Although the President himself has not spoken to the family—he does not want to pressure them in any way—members of the administration have spoken to the family in calls facilitated by the British government. The President is just trying to be helpful if at all possible.”

As this newspaper went to press, a judge was hearing another appeal from the family to allow medical professionals in the U.S. to use an experimental drug in Charlie’s case. A British judge told the parents they had until July 12 to submit what he called “new and powerful evidence” demonstrating that Charlie should be kept alive to receive experimental treatment.

Through donations, the infant’s parents have raised nearly $1.7 million in four months to finance having the baby treated in the United States, and more than 350,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the infant be allowed to get treatment here.

Though many are debating whether they believe Charlie’s situation is tragic, unfortunate and unfair or being handled appropriately as laws in Britain dictate, we are encouraging people of faith to follow our Holy Father’s lead.

During the four years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made mercy a cornerstone of his universal ministry. He even had us celebrate a Holy Year of Mercy during 2015-16, saying he wanted to make it evident that the Church’s mission is to be a witness of compassion.

Compassion, mercy and love should be at the heart of our prayers for Charlie and his family.

Pope Francis is demonstrating it. President Trump is showing it here, too.

We must never forget: Christ’s mission on Earth was a mission of mercy. If we are truly to be his disciples, it should be ours as well.

Remember Charlie and his family in your daily petitions. And let us especially pray that God’s will, not man’s, be done.

—Mike Krokos

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