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Sainthood cause opened for Filipino priest killed by Islamists in 2000

Fr. Rhoel Gallardo (1965-2000). / Courtesy of the Claretian Missionaries.

Rome Newsroom, May 7, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The sainthood cause opened this week of Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, who died on May 3, 2000, after being held for 43 days by Islamists.

The Claretian missionary was killed at the age of 34, just six years after his ordination as a priest and 11 years after making his first profession as a religious.

On March 20, 2000, Gallardo was kidnapped, together with a school administrator, five teachers, and 22 students from the Claret School of Tumahubong, a village located on the island province of Basilan, in the Philippines.

The majority of the population in Basilan is Muslim; the next largest religious group is Catholic. Gallardo, who was the school’s principal, and the teachers and students, were taken captive by the Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf, the East Asia branch of the Islamic State.

Gallardo died when he was shot in the head, shoulder, and back at close range, after repeatedly refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. Three teachers and five children also died when they were caught in a gunfight between the terrorists and the military.

When Gallardo’s body was recovered, it was discovered that the nails on his index fingers and toes had been pulled off before he was shot. There were also other signs of torture.

The Territorial Prelature of Isabela, led by Bishop Leo Dalmao, officially opened Gallardo’s cause for beatification on May 3, 2021, the 21st anniversary of his death.

The ceremony took place at St. Vincent Ferrer’s Church in Tumahubong, the town where Gallardo had volunteered to serve the year before his murder.

According to Claretian Fr. Angel Calvo, quoted in Asia News, “Fr. Gallardo was the first priest kidnapped in Basilan to be killed. Other priests and nuns had been seized, even beaten, but in the end everyone was freed.”

“People already think of him as a martyr, a hero. The other hostages said that he did not want to give up the cross and the rosary, as the Islamists wanted. That's why they tortured him by ripping off his nails,” Calvo said.

“He suffered a lot; yet, as school principal, even in captivity he cared first of all about the teachers and the children entrusted to him. He offered his life for the people around him.”

The priest said that even after Gallardo’s death, the Claretian missionaries stayed in Basilan. In the two decades since Gallardo’s death, Abu Sayyaf has moved its activities more to the island of Jolo.

“Fr. Gallardo’s testimony remains an example that no one has forgotten,” Calvo said.

CBCP News, the news agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, quoted Fr. Elias Ayubon, the provincial superior of the Claretian Missionaries in the Philippines, who said that Gallardo “stood up for God who was faithful to him until the last drop of his blood.”

Martyrdom “could have occurred to any of us who were the young missionaries then, but it was given to Fr. Rhoel because, in hindsight, he was the most prepared to receive the crown,” Ayubon said.

“We join in fervent prayer that our brother and friend Servant of God Fr. Rhoel Gallardo will, one day, be counted among the martyrs and saints of our Mother Church.”

German Catholic diocese hosts event declaring same-sex blessings a case of ‘not if, but how’

Churches in Germany are flying LGBT pride flags in response to the Vatican’s ‘no’ to same-sex blessings. / Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

CNA Staff, May 7, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

A German Catholic diocese has hosted an online event declaring that same-sex blessings are a matter of “not if, but how.”

The Diocese of Essen, in Germany’s industrial Ruhr area, held the conference, entitled “Blessings for all. Blessing celebrations for same-sex couples,” ahead of a nationwide event on May 10 in defiance of the Vatican’s “no” to same-sex blessings.

The diocese said in a May 3 post on its website that around 100 people took part in the conference. Among them were theologians who, it said, argued that “the Church must move out of the premodern era and embrace the current state of knowledge of science and society.”

The report noted that “currently some dioceses are jointly developing a handout on the topic [of same-sex blessings], which will also include a proposal on how to conduct a blessing celebration.”

One participating professor suggested that blessings of homosexual unions should take the form of comprehensive and festive liturgies, including the proclamation of the word, a prayer of blessing, intercessions, and the exchange of rings.

“Blessing celebrations are high forms of Christian liturgy, comparable to baptism,” Benedikt Kranemann said.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Essen’s Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck said in an interview last month that he would “not suspend a priest in his diocese or impose other Church penalties on him” if the cleric blesses same-sex couples.

Essen diocese noted that its vicar general, Fr. Klaus Pfeffer, addressed the virtual conference.

It said: “Deeply hurtful, wounding, overshadowing entire life stories: according to the impression of Essen’s vicar general Klaus Pfeffer, this is how the Church acts when it judges the lives of homosexual couples, refuses to bless them and dares to declare the binding, faithful love of two people a sin.”

“This finally needs to end: Not if, but how blessing celebrations for homosexual couples can be conducted in the church was the focus of the digital symposium ‘Blessing for all. Blessing celebrations for same-sex couples’ on Friday, April 30, in the Diocese of Essen.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. A number of bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while churches displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

Catholic pastoral workers are organizing a day of protest on May 10. The event is known as “Segnungsgottesdiensten für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers.” The organizers, who are using the hashtag “#liebegewinnt” (“love wins”), hope that same-sex couples across Germany will take part in the event.

Several German bishops have previously spoken in favor of blessings for same-sex couples, including Overbeck, bishops’ conference chairman Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Helmut Dieser (Aachen), Reinhard Marx (Munich and Freising), Franz-Josef Bode (Osnabrück), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), and Heinrich Timmerevers (Dresden-Meissen).

But other bishops have welcomed the CDF’s intervention. Among them are Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne), Stephan Burger (Freiburg), Ulrich Neymeyr (Erfurt), Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Wolfgang Ipolt (Görlitz), Stefan Oster (Passau), and Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg).

Bätzing said last week that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

The bishops’ conference chairman said that blessing services were “not suitable as an instrument for Church-political demonstrations or protest actions.”

Cardinals’ council discusses pandemic recovery, curial reform with Pope Francis

A view of St. Peter's Basilica from within the Vatican. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, May 7, 2021 / 04:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals met online Thursday to discuss the Church’s response to the economic and social fallout of the coronavirus pandemic in different parts of the world, according to a Vatican statement.

Each of the seven cardinals described the situation in their respective regions and “the commitment of the Church in favor of health, economic recovery and the support offered to the most needy,” the statement from the Holy See Press Office said.

Pope Francis also participated in the May 6 meeting, connecting virtually from his residence in Vatican City.

Also on the agenda for the meeting was the ongoing revision of the draft of the new constitution to govern the Roman Curia, known as Praedicate evangelium.

According to the Vatican, the Council of Cardinals discussed “the working methodology that will have to be implemented for the revision and correction of some normative texts following the future entry into force of the next apostolic constitution, as well as the further perspectives opened by the text in preparation.”

The group of cardinal advisers, sometimes referred to as the C9 because it previously had nine members, was established by Pope Francis in 2013, to “assist him in the governance of the universal Church,” as well as to revise the text of the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus.

At one of the council’s first meetings, it was decided that projected revisions to Pastor bonus would be substantial enough to warrant an entirely new constitution.

The cardinals have been working on drafting and revising the text since 2014, soliciting feedback from bishops’ conferences last year. An updated draft was presented to Pope Francis last summer and suggestions from Vatican departments are being evaluated. But the Vatican has given no projected date for the constitution’s publication.

The cardinal members of the council are Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay; Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa; Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising; Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa; and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of the Vatican City State.

The Council of Cardinal’s next meeting is scheduled for June.

Biden's National Day of Prayer proclamation lacks mention of God

President Biden addresses the 2021 National Prayer Breakfast . Credit: National Prayer Breakfast

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 23:01 pm (CNA).

US President Joe Biden issued on Wednesday the annual proclamation of a National Day of Prayer, without mentioning any deity in it.

The May 5 statement says that "throughout our history, Americans of many religions and belief systems have turned to prayer for strength, hope, and guidance. Prayer has nourished countless souls and powered moral movements — including essential fights against racial injustice, child labor, and infringement on the rights of disabled Americans."

This year the National Day of Prayer is observed May 6.

In the proclamation Biden wrote that "today, we remember and celebrate the role that the healing balm of prayer can play in our lives and in the life of our Nation. As we continue to confront the crises and challenges of our time — from a deadly pandemic, to the loss of lives and livelihoods in its wake, to a reckoning on racial justice, to the existential threat of climate change — Americans of faith can call upon the power of prayer to provide hope and uplift us for the work ahead."

"On this National Day of Prayer,” his statement continued, “we unite with purpose and resolve, and recommit ourselves to the core freedoms that helped define and guide our Nation from its earliest days. We celebrate our incredible good fortune that, as Americans, we can exercise our convictions freely — no matter our faith or beliefs. Let us find in our prayers, however they are delivered, the determination to overcome adversity, rise above our differences, and come together as one Nation to meet this moment in history."

The National Day of Prayer was designated by Congress in 1952, and scheduled in 1988 to be observed annually on the first Thursday in May.

Biden's proclamation, which also invites "citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in prayers for spiritual guidance, mercy, and protection” is the first in memory to exclude any reference to the name of God or the concept of a deity, excepting a reference to the year of our Lord 2021.

Baton Rouge diocese to celebrate 60th anniversary by celebrating St Joseph

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni. / Public Domain

Baton Rouge, La., May 6, 2021 / 22:01 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Baton Rouge plans to celebrate the Year of St. Joseph in conjunction with its 60th anniversary. 

The diocese, which has St. Joseph as its patron, announced that it will celebrate “60 Years in the Year of St. Joseph” starting May 1, 2021 and going until March 19, 2022. 

“St. Joseph has played a prominent role in our diocese since its inception in 1961, and as we began planning for the 60th anniversary celebration this year, it seemed only natural to celebrate not only the rich history of our diocese but its beloved patron,” Bishop Michael Duca said May 4. 

Pope Francis in December 2020 announced a Year of St. Joseph, concluding Dec. 8, 2021, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the saint’s proclamation as patron of the universal Church.

Bishop Duca said a planning committee will be arranging various liturgical celebrations throughout the year for the faithful of the Baton Rouge diocese to take part in. The bishop says the goal is to support Pope Francis’ desire for “the faithful across the world to rediscover St. Joseph and imitate his life of heroic virtue.”

The diocesan committee is working to create prayer cards, coloring books, videos and a diocesan-wide pilgrimage guide, in the hopes of creating “opportunities for the lay faithful to learn more about the history of the local church while also celebrating its patron.”

The history of Catholicism in Baton Rouge goes back nearly 300 years. French missionaries brought Catholicism to the area, celebrating the first Mass in Baton Rouge in 1722 on the site of what would become the Louisiana capitol building. 

The Diocese of New Orleans was established in 1793, and in 1961, St. John XXIII established the Diocese of Baton Rouge, taking territory from the New Orleans diocese. The pope named St. Joseph Church as the diocese’s cathedral. 

Then-Bishop Alfred Hughes declared St. Joseph the patron of the Baton Rouge diocese in the 1990s.

Catholic bioethicist laments HHS removal of restrictions on fetal tissue research

Sign outside National Institute of Health, Department for Health and human Services, Washington DC. Via Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 21:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic bioethicist has repeated his objection to the Biden administration’s decision that the National Institutes of Health no longer needs an ethics board’s approval before awarding funding to researchers who will use fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions.


“The current administration offers the pretense of acting ethically when they stress that the requirement for obtaining consent still stands, meaningless as it is, even as they adroitly eliminate any substantive ethical review by outside entities,” Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.


The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced May 5 the elimination of the requirement for approval by an ethics advisory board for research proposing use of human fetal tissue from abortion.


The announcement is an official notice to researchers who are looking for grants in the area of human fetal tissue projects.


“Even when the mother of an aborted child signs the dotted line granting permission to utilize fetal cells and organs, that consent is necessarily void,” Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA. “The mother has disqualified herself from being able to give valid informed consent because she has already renounced her child's best interests by arranging to end her baby's life through abortion.”


The announcement highlights an April 16 reversal of the Trump administration’s requirement that an ethics advisory board must review and approve all research grant applications and contract proposals that include the use of fetal tissue used from abortion in order to get funding from the NIH. 


“Effective immediately, HHS no longer requires review and approval by an ethics advisory board for research proposing use of human fetal tissue,” the announcement said. “Accordingly, HHS will no longer convene the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board.”


Fr Pacholczyk told CNA: “This pro-abortion administration is operating in a very troubling moral vacuum, eager to bypass even the most basic ethical standards that should govern taxpayer-funded biomedical research. The foxes are seeking complete control of the henhouse.”


The priest, a former member of the fetal tissue advisory board, recently told the National Catholic Register that “The decision to reinstate NIH support for research involving fetal tissue from abortions reveals a kind of moral vacuum in the world of scientific research.”


Fr. Pacholczyk lauded the ethics board’s previous work in his interview with the Register: “The board acted with moral clarity and ethical resolve as it carried out its mandate.” 


“Very regrettably, the current administration is jettisoning serious ethical review to safeguard abortion and to assure the continued exploitation of vulnerable unborn Americans. Outside ethical review is essential,” he said.


The board had voted to withhold federal funding from 13 fetal tissue research proposals, and permitted funding for one.


In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that researchers have a duty to refuse to use biological material of illicit origin, a duty which “springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life.”

State Department allowing U.S. embassies to fly LGBT 'Pride' flags

U.S. embassy in Moscow displays LGBT "Pride" flag. Embassies will be allowed to fly the rainbow flag on the same flagpole as the U.S. flag. / hodim/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 20:00 pm (CNA).

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is allowing U.S. diplomatic posts around the world to fly the LGBT “Pride” flag on the same flagpole as the U.S. flag during “Pride season.”

In a cable first reported by Foreign Policy magazine on April 22, Blinken granted U.S. diplomatic outposts “blanket written authorization ... to display the Pride flag on the external-facing flagpole, for the duration of the 2021 Pride season.”

The authorization was given to fly the flag before May 17, which is observed as the international day against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, Foreign Policy reported. June, during which embassies can also fly the “Pride” flag on the external flagpole, is celebrated as “Pride” month by people identifying as LGBT.

In 2019, U.S. embassies were reportedly prohibited from flying the “Pride” flag on embassy flagpoles, and had to obtain permission to do so. They were allowed to display the flag inside buildings. In his confirmation hearing in January, Blinken had promised to change that policy.

Earlier this week, the White House said that President Joe Biden has used “the bully pulpit” to promote “transgender rights.”

At last week’s address to a joint session of Congress, President Biden had told “transgender Americans” that “your President has your back.” When on May 4 asked how Biden might act on that promise in the future, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded that he has already acted on it.

“He's also used the power of the bully pulpit in his presidency to convey that transgender rights are human rights,” Psaki said, noting that Biden also “has signed executive orders.”

In January, Biden signed an executive order interpreting sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. He said his administration’s “policy” would be to extend federal civil rights protections to these two classes.

Legal experts said the order was far-reaching and would affect the privacy of single-sex spaces such as women’s locker rooms and shelters, and could result in legal action against religious Americans who oppose the redefinition of marriage and transgender ideology.

Psaki added that Biden “expects” this policy in his order to be put into practice by his administration, “ensuring that transgender youth have the opportunity to play sports, and to be treated equally in states across the country.”

Blinken’s cable on “Pride” flags also advised diplomatic posts in certain countries to avoid flying the rainbow flag if doing so would create a backlash.

“Posts should support efforts to repeal [criminalization] legislation, while ensuring that ‘do no harm’ remains our overarching principle so U.S. efforts do not inadvertently result in backlash or further marginalization of the LGBTQI+ community,” the cable read.

At his confirmation hearing in January, Blinken also said that appointing a top diplomatic official on LGBT issues, the LGBTI Special Envoy, is “a matter, I think, of some real urgency.” The position currently remains vacant.

On May 4, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden’s picks for ambassador roles should represent the whole country, including people identifying as LGBTQ.

She noted that “the President looks to ensuring that the people representing him -- not just in the United States, but around the world -- represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community.” 

Legislators urge Biden to address global religious persecution

mdgn/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A bipartisan group of members of Congress asked President Biden this week to prioritize responding to global religious persecution.

“Religious freedom, one of the most basic human rights for all people, has historically been an area of sincere bipartisan support and agreement in American foreign policy,” stated a May 4 letter by members of both the House and Senate to President Biden.

The May 4 letter was led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). The members were joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), James Hill (R-Alaska), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as well as Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“The United States is a beacon of hope and freedom, and we must continue to be a leader in calling attention and responding to religious persecution wherever it occurs,” they stated.

Citing the Pew Research Center’s annual study of global religious restrictions and persecution, the legislators called the current state of international religious persecution a “crisis.” 

They noted persecution of “the Rohingya in Burma, mass imprisonment and exploitation of Uyghurs and other faith groups by the Chinese government, and the ISIS genocide against Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq” to emphasize the urgency of promoting religious freedom abroad.

The members called on Biden to fill vacant positions in his administration that are charged with promoting international religious freedom. 

In particular, they urged Biden to appoint an “experienced, well-qualified Ambassador-at-Large leading the International Religious Freedom office within the State Department.” 

Such an appointment, they said, “is vital” to the agency’s “success” in promoting international religious freedom, countering religious persecution, and engaging with governments, religious leaders, NGOs, and civil society.

The coalition of legislators also asked Biden to appoint a Director of International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council. 

“Having a designated point person to coordinate among all components of the U.S. Government that work to advance religious freedom abroad is vital to the success of these initiatives,” they stated. 

In addition to filling the new positions, the legislators recommended the Biden administration pursue initiatives and actions to work with global allies on issues on religious freedom.

The members urged the administration to lead coalitions of actors in government, civil society, and foreign nations to create initiatives that protect religious freedom. 

The letter said that because of China’s hostility towards religious groups in particular, the U.S. has an obligation to respond. 

“China’s hostility toward religion and people of faith extends to Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians, some of whom are unjustly imprisoned for their faith, such as Pastor John Cao,” the letter said.

The members argued that U.S. engagement was integral to the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for more than two years. The legislators added that because of the prioritization of religious freedom, the U.S. has been able to “defend Coptic Christians in Egypt, denounce anti-conversion laws in India, and draw attention to the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The coalition of legislators said they hope the administration “will work on a bipartisan basis with Congress to advance these policy items and prioritize the right of all people to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith or have no faith at all.”

Nigerian priest thought missing resurfaces after followers storm episcopal residence

Fr. Ejike Mbaka

Enugu, Nigeria, May 6, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

A priest of the Diocese of Enugu who founded Adoration Ministry resurfaced Wednesday, hours after his followers stormed the episcopal residence demanding to know the priest’s whereabouts.

The followers of Fr. Ejike Mbaka caused destruction of property at the local bishop’s residence May 5.

Fr. Benjamin Achi, communications director of the Enugu diocese, described the alleged disappearance of Fr. Mbaka as “misinformation” in an interview with ACI Africa.

“He has resurfaced at 2:40 p.m. after a mob attacked the bishop's house this morning destroying lots and lots of things,” Fr. Achi said in reference to Fr. Mbaka.

The protesters claimed that Bishop Callistus Onaga of Enugu had invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting on May 2 and since then, Fr. Mbaka had not been seen. 

Last week, Fr. Mbaka had reportedly called on Nigeria’s Members of Parliament to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari should he fail to resign over increasing insecurity in Nigeria. 

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Fr. Mbaka arrived at the residence of the Bishop of Enugu May 5 “in a motorcade amidst jubilation from his Adoration faithful.”

“He, however, stopped in front of the Bishop’s court and addressed his supporters urging them to remain calm and return to the Adoration ground for further information,” NAN reported.

In the May 5 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Achi said that Fr. Mbaka was “not missing.”

“It's a misinformation by the members of his Adoration Ministry,” Fr. Achi said, adding that while it cannot be confirmed that Bishop Onaga had actually invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting, “if the Bishop invited him, it must (have been) something private and was not supposed to be made public.”

Fr. Mbaka has since sought to defend his ministry, saying he is an instrument of God engaged in charity.

"I have no problem with the Church, I don't have any problem with the Catholic Church nor with any Church. Am just a servant of God. Am just an instrument of God. Nobody will stop me from doing the charity am doing," Fr. Mbaka said in a video recording published on Facebook May 5.

Last year, the priest was faulted for engaging in partisan politics after he was found expressing explicit support for one candidate in the gubernatorial elections of Imo State.

Anthony Fauci, Deepak Chopra speak at first day of Vatican health conference

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, conducted by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, at the White House Jan. 21. / Alex Wong / Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

At the first day of an online Vatican conference on “exploring the mind, body, and soul,” Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the evolution of the scientific community’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the difference between acting based on instinct and acting from data.

Fauci, an immunologist and chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, responded to questions from CNN journalist Sanjay Gupta, who asked him how much doctors “have to rely on faith, not just religious faith, but your own system of belief,” when confronting something new, like COVID-19.

“I think you have to rely on it when you’re starting with nothing,” Fauci said. But he added that “as more solid scientific information becomes available, you pull away a bit from the kind of experience, instinct and get more into the reality of the evidence you have.”

He said there are some people “who don’t appreciate the evolution of understanding and the evolution of knowledge, that you’re going to change some of your viewpoints because the data itself will not necessarily change, but additional data changes the status of your knowledge.”

“Your knowledge may be minimal and you’re acting on quote ‘faith,’ as it were, versus the true, substantive evidence in data, which really gives you a much better foundation,” he said. “So that’s the way I look at it.”

Fauci spoke near the beginning of a three-day international conference on “Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” taking place virtually May 6-8.

It is the fifth conference of its kind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation, which describes itself as “a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, public 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to improve human health globally.”

Cura Foundation president Robin Smith and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi gave the opening remarks.

Ravasi said that “the body is a fundamental reality of human existence and of communication,” and pointed to Christianity’s central mystery, the Incarnation.

He said the conference would be organized around three themes, which he described as three stars that light up the sky: the body, the soul, and the mind.

The cardinal added that the conference would involve dialogue with different experts and people on these themes, and that people’s visions on the issues would differ.

Deepak Chopra, a leading figure in the New Age movement, was part of a discussion with Dr. Rudolf Tanzi about inflammation and the brain, moderated by surgeon and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Chopra and Tanzi are co-authors of the book “The Healing Self” about “how a positive attitude can trigger health,” according to Oz.

In the context of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Parkinson’s disease, Chopra gave his lifestyle advice for decreasing stress-based inflammation, including good sleep, mind-body coordination, exercise, emotional resilience, food, mindfulness, and yoga.

Oz asked Chopra about “the mind’s role in healing the body.”

Chopra said: “One of the fundamental questions in science is called ‘the hard problem of consciousness’: How do we experience thoughts, feelings, emotions, insight, intuition, inspiration, creativity, vision, even reverence for God?”

The question, he continued, is “how does the brain do that? Is the mind doing the brain or the brain doing the mind? And right now, the conversation seems to be neither is doing each other.”

“Consciousness is more fundamental. We experience it subjectively as the mind and we experience it objectively as the body and the brain, but the brain is part of the body,” he said.

This “consciousness,” he suggested, is “what spiritual traditions call the soul and cognitive scientists call the conscious agent.”

Oz asked Chopra “what gives you this essence, that soul? Where does that come from in your cosmology?”

Chopra said that “right now cognitive scientists, those who believe in this framework, say that that soul, or that conscious agent, is an aspect of a universal consciousness which religions might call God.”

“It doesn’t matter what you call it... there’s an underlying field of awareness, of consciousness, which modulates itself and differentiates itself into conscious agents which we call souls.”

The Vatican health conference also features the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, along with celebrities active in medical philanthropy, global health advocates, policymakers, physicians, and religious leaders.

The conference’s website lists more than 100 speakers, including Kerry Kennedy, Cindy Crawford, John Sculley, Brandon Marshall, Joe Perry of the rock band Aerosmith, and Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications.