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Salesian Sister named interim head of Vatican Dicastery


Andreas SOLARO | AFP

I.Media - published on 08/27/21

The Holy Father named Sister Smerilli as interim Dicastery secretary and delegate to the COVID-19 Commission.

Pope Francis has appointed Sister Alessandra Smerilli as the interim Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD) and as a Delegate of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, as reported by the Holy See’s press Office in a statement published on August 26, 2021.

“I am grateful to the Holy Father for the demanding task he has called me to take on,” said Sister Smerilli in a statement posted on the DPIHD’s site. “I pray to the Lord to help me to honour this call in a spirit of obedience to the Church, with the humility, passion, creativity and ability to listen that it requires.”

The DPIHD was established by Pope Francis in 2016 to promote human development and give particular attention to migrants, the sick and those who are marginalized and vulnerable. In March 2020 the pontiff established the COVID-19 Commission as a committee working under the DPIHD to analyze the various challenges brought forth by the pandemic and express the Church’s “solicitude and care.”

The work of the commission

This Commission is composed of five working groups and four task forces that work on various topics such as developing creative solutions for a post-pandemic society or collaborating with local actors to support their needs. It has also worked with other Vatican institutions, such as the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Office of Papal Charities, to promote the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Commission was previously lead by a directorate which included the Prefect of DPIHD, Cardinal Peter Turkson; the Secretary of the Dicastery, Msgr Bruno Marie Duffé; and the Assistant Secretary, Fr. Augusto Zampini. Since March 2021, Smerilli was the supervisor of the economics task force of the COVID-19 Commission and Undersecretary of DPIHD.

In her new interim role she will be replacing Msgr Bruno Marie Duffé and Fr. Augusto Zampini, as secretary and assistant secretary of the dicastery respectively. The statement from the Holy See’s press office specifies in fact that the directorate of the COVID-19 Commission will now be composed of Cardinal Peter Turkson, Sister Alessandra Smerilli and Fr. Fabio Baggio, Undersecretary of the migrant and refugee section of DPIHD. Even if Smerilli’s position is ad interim this nomination is very significant as she is the first woman to be appointed secretary of a dicastery.

Sr. Smerilli’s life 

Born in 1974 in Vasto in central Italy, Sister Smerilli became a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians—more commonly known as the Salesians of Don Bosco—in 1997. She is an expert in economics and holds two PhDs in the subject, one from La Sapienza University of Rome and the other from East Anglia University (UK). She was also very involved in the organization of the forum The Economy of Francesco, which occurred in October 2020, and promotes a vision of economics that focuses on common goods and the well-being of all people.

COVID-19Information about the vaccine against COVID-19Pope Francis
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