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Francis names former collaborator as new secretary of Family Life department

31 May 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

Fr Awi Mello was Francis' translator during the pope's first papal trip abroad for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013

Pope Francis has appointed a Brazilian priest who he has previously worked closely with in Latin America as second in command at the Vatican’s new family life department. 

Fr Alexandre Awi Mello’s job is to be the secretary - number two - serving under Cardinal Brian Farrell who leads the Laity, Family and Life dicastery. 

This department, created by the Pope, is paying an important role in the battle over Francis’ family document, Amoris Laetitia, which has come under fire from traditional Catholics for being too woolly on moral issues such as whether the divorced and remarried can receive communion. 

Cardinal Farrell, however, says Amoris Laetitia is the “the Holy spirit speaking”; is in line with Church doctrine and will be the guiding text for his new department. 

When the new department was first mooted there was a suggestion it could have been led by a married couple, although this idea was later shelved. Nevertheless, according to the statutes of the dicastery, the secretary can be a lay person, but by appointing a priest Francis has kept with the Roman Curia tradition of clerics occupying leadership positions.  

Fr Awi Mello, 46, a member of the Schönstatt religious movement, has previously worked with the Pope, and was his translator during Francis’ first papal trip abroad for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. 

The two had earlier collaborated on the drafting of the 2007 Aparecida document, the programmatic text of the Latin and Central American bishops and which was praised for its pastoral emphasis. The then Archbishop of Buenos Aires was charged with editing the text, while Fr Awi Mello acted as one of the drafting secretaries. 

“It was almost 20 days of work,” he told Brazilian magazine Epoca. “Even then the future pontiff was already showing the humility and simplicity that became his symbols years later.”

When he and the Pope met again in Rio, Fr Awi Mello said Francis joked with him: “Don’t worry, we will not be working again until two in the morning.” 

The priest also revealed he acted as a sounding board for the Pope in Brazil and helped him review speeches, including one where the pontiff issued some blistering, soul searching criticism to the country’s bishops. In that address, Francis said the bishops needed to change their approach in order to better connect with Catholics and prevent them leaving to evangelical churches.

Before giving the speech, Francis asked the priest: “Do you think I’m being too hard on the bishops?”

Fr Awi Mello has held a range of positions including in his home country including that of Brazilian national director of the Schönstatt movement, a group founded in Germany in 1914 that combines Marian devotion and social action. 

Ordained in 2001, he has worked as a parish priest, a Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology in Londrina, Brazil and is in charge of Tabor, a publication dedicated to catechesis and pastoral care.    

 

PICTURE: FR Awi Mello ©YouTube



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