Pope Francis, it turns out, has a lot to say about the many social injustices happening in the world, and their perpetrators. Speaking virtually at the fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements on Saturday, Francis covered issues that ranged from the pandemic and subsequent inequality of vaccine distribution to the murder of George Floyd, the ongoing hunger crisis, the fossil fuel industry, and tech giants, calling on the powerful entities of the planet to step up.
Specifically, he led by appealing to pharmaceutical companies to drop their patents on the COVID-19 vaccines to make them more widely available to poorer countries.
“I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only 3 or 4 percent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated,” the Pope said in his message.
Vaccine nationalism was highlighted as a major threat to halting the pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) months before the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved. It was right, the richest countries on Earth did indeed buy up and hoard vaccines, creating a major disparity between them and the poorest countries, many of which are yet to receive doses promised by the West.
So far, more than 80 percent of all COVID vaccine doses administered have been in high- and middle-income countries. Only 2.7 percent of people in low-income countries have had the COVID vaccine. Most people in the poorest nations will have to wait until 2023 to get a COVID vaccine, recent research showed. In contrast, 56 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, with booster shots already being administered.
The Pope also called to task tech giants to stop “exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits, without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation," and the media to "stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged."
He also called on arms manufacturers to stop the production and sale of weapons, fossil fuel industries to stop polluting, and to stop imposing monopolistic systems in the food industry, which is “withholding bread from the hungry.” He challenged the powerful countries of the planet to stop aggressions and unilateral sanctions against any other country anywhere on Earth, putting an end to neo-colonialism. And finally, he had some words for the economic system in which we operate.
“This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time,” Pope Francis said.
Many, while broadly agreeing with the Pope, have pointed out that the Catholic Church is itself a powerful global player and has not lived up to His Holiness’ hopes and goals. Just this summer, the Vatican, in an unprecedented interference, threatened diplomatic repercussions to Italy if a new hate-crime bill – which was to extend the protection of the law to disabled and LGBTQ+ individuals – became law. Or, of course, the well-documented abuse of minors within the Church, most recently highlighted in a report in France that found that since the 1950s the Catholic Church has failed to prevent and report the abuse of over 215,000 children.
There are many powerful entities that need to step up, and that includes the Church.