“And we know that -- because I have tried -- appealing to the leadership of these companies to do the right thing has just not worked, and so we need regulation.”
Speaking earlier on the second day, Dr. Francis Collins suggested that the coronavirus pandemic should be seen as both a medical and a spiritual crisis.
Collins, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said that the medical crisis was obvious in terms of the number of people who have contracted the virus and died from it.
“But it has also disrupted us spiritually,” he said, “it has caused great amounts of struggle, in terms of mental health, anxiety, depression, even a sense of PTSD, from people who have gone through this over and over again.”
Speaking from his home office, where he said he had been living like a “hermit,” Collins said that while science seemed to provide the best hope for a way out of the pandemic, it could not answer people’s deepest questions about the meaning of suffering.
He said: “The hope that we might want to offer now comes in many ways from science, and it’s something that I’m immersed in every day: the development of these vaccines coming forward at extraordinary speed, with unexpectedly, remarkably high efficacy and safety -- an answer to prayer, one might even say.”
“But also the other struggles that people are having which vaccines alone are not going to deal with… The sense of hopelessness that many have experienced, of fear, that is where I think faith is a much better solution, perhaps, than many have given it credit for.”
Collins, an evangelical Christian who was once an atheist, has overseen the NIH’s collaboration with pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
He noted that he had experienced difficult moments as he watched the virus spread around the world, but had found solace in the Bible.
He said: “I’ve had my own times over these 15 months of feeling frustrated, maybe even a little hopeless, that this virus continued to win the battles that we were losing. And I could not help but ask God: ‘Why is this happening? Is there not something that you can do about it?’”
“But as I read through the pages of that book of God’s words, of the Bible, I found myself settling into the Psalms a lot. Because if you think that our times and struggle are novel, well, go and read the Psalms and you’ll see what David and the other writers of those hymns were dealing with also.”
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“And I continually come back to them and particularly to Psalms like Psalm 46, which seems to have been written for this era. Psalm 46 begins, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Trouble. We’ve had trouble. We’re still having trouble. But this is this promise that God is aware of that and with us, and as a refuge and a strength.”
Collins, who won the $1.3 million Templeton Prize last year, continued: “So I’m glad for the vaccines. I’m glad for the remarkable advances in diagnostic technologies to figure out where this virus is and who’s been infected, and I’m glad for the therapeutic advances that are happening.”
“But I’m also glad that I have this promise of a God who understands suffering, died on a cross in a suffering experience that none of us can even imagine, and who is our refuge and strength and our ever-present help in trouble.”
Another speaker on day two was Brandon Marshall, who played 13 seasons in the NFL, who reflected on his struggle with borderline personality disorder and described his efforts to help people at risk of suicide.
In his remarks at the start of the conference on May 6, Pontifical Council president Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said that the conference was organized around three themes, which he described as three stars that light up the sky: the body, the soul, and the mind.
He 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.