Life Sciences 101: Young researchers bring new energy to defend life

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In its effort to defend life at all stages, the Pontifical Academy for Life is relying on young scientists and professionals to reach across the aisle and bridge the gap between science and faith.

In his address to the academy June 25, Pope Francis called for “a global vision of bioethics” inspired by Christian thought, in which the value of human life is not determined by sickness and death but by the “profound conviction of the irrevocable dignity of the human person.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, speaks during an interview in his office at the Vatican April 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Since 2017, the pontifical academy has relied on the presence of young researchers to expand on this bioethical vision and give a fresh face to a timeless message.

“There is nothing specific about we are doing that’s different from the activity of other members. It’s just new blood in the academy to refresh its energy,” Sandra Azab told Catholic News Service June 26.

Azab, along with fellow young researchers and other members attended the academy’s June 25-27 general assembly, “Equal beginnings, but then? A global responsibility.”

“I think this conference is bringing many answers to the ailing questions that we are facing during our research, and especially with all the political events happening all over the world with immigration, inequality of health care access, etc.,” said Azab, who studied as a pharmacist in Egypt and works as an international health specialist.

Pope Francis updated the statutes of the pontifical academy in November 2016 and highlighted its need to study ways to promote “the care of the dignity of the human person at the different ages of existence, mutual respect between genders and generations, defense of the dignity of each human being, promotion of a quality of human life that integrates its material and spiritual value with a view to an authentic ‘human ecology.'”

According the pontifical academy’s statutes, young researcher members “come from fields related to the academy’s own areas of research, are no older than 35 years of age” and serve a five-year term.

The areas of expertise the researchers specialize in include medicine, the biological sciences, theology, philosophy, anthropology, law and sociology.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told CNS that through the inclusion of young researchers, the academy wants to help them “understand the mission that has been entrusted to them.”

“It is a mission that, in this moment, has become very delicate because we are experiencing an age where the risk of a dictatorship of technology or science can make us forget the human dimension that, in reality, is the aim of everything,” Archbishop Paglia said.

Hye-Jin Kim, a South Korean professor at the Catholic University of Korea’s College of Nursing, stands near the entrance of the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican June 26. She was among 15 young researchers in attendance at the Pontifical Academy for Life’s June 25-27 general assembly held at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Hye-Jin Kim, a South Korean professor at the Catholic University of Korea’s College of Nursing, teaches nursing and maternal care. The general assembly’s reflection on global ethics, she said, is linked with the issue of women’s health care.

But as a young researcher for the pontifical academy, Kim told CNS that her role is not just to provide insight into her areas of expertise, but to also be a “bridge between the old generation and the young generation.”

“It’s not just about research; we can be a kind of bridge for young people who want to be researchers; we can give some kind of inspiration to them,” Kim said. “I think the academy can use us to have a conversation with young people.”

The church’s concern for young men and women will be front and center when the Synod of Bishops convenes in October to reflect on “young people, faith and vocational discernment.”

The synod’s “instrumentum laboris” (working document), published by the Vatican June 19, highlighted young people’s need for a church that listens to their concerns, accompanies them in discerning their vocations and helps them confront the challenges they face.

Researchers are no stranger to challenges related to their work in scientific study, ranging from funding and mentorship to spiritual and moral challenges that come with “working in a very sensitive area as bioethics,” Azab told CNS.

Questions, such as “how to discern truth, how to make decisions regarding the ethical questions of life, all of this will require a lot of support from the church, mainly through spiritual accompaniment,” she said.

The young researchers, Azab said, drafted a document addressed to the synod fathers, asking the church to help them and “guide us to face the challenges we have on a daily basis.”

“We are raising the voices of young researchers from all over the world by highlighting the challenges and asking for help from the church,” she said.

Archbishop Paglia told CNS that among the other issues discussed in the draft was the “relationship between being a believer and being a scientist.”

“They noted that today, unfortunately, the world of science is often not only agnostic but at times, even opposed” to their beliefs,” he said. “Thus, it is questioning what it means to have the wisdom of dialogue that is neither subjugation nor separation.”

Along with asking the church for guidance and accompaniment, Archbishop Paglia said those two issues “are the heart of this document they will present to the synod on young people.”

“To be able to help young people have a dialogue between science, faith and humanism within the scope of the entire human family is important to us,” Archbishop Paglia told CNS.

About Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news and information service.

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