38-year-old high school religion teacher is the new Secretary of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life
Just one verse each day.
Pope Francis named Gleison de Paula Souza, a young Brazilian layman who teaches Catholic religion in an Italian high school, as Secretary for the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, the Vatican press office announced November 17, 2022. He succeeds another Brazilian, Father Alexandre Awi Mello, who was elected superior general of the Schoenstatt Fathers on August 21.
Gleison de Paula Souza was born on May 14, 1984, in the state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil. From 2005 to 2016, he was a member of the Congregation of the Sons of Divine Providence, a spiritual family commonly known as the “Orionine Fathers,” named after Father Luigi Orione (1872-1940), a very popular priest in Italy, who was canonized by John Paul II in 2004.
In January 2014 Pope Francis received de Paula Souza, who was then still a seminarian, at Casa Santa Marta, the Italian daily La Stampa reported at the time, indicating a personal friendship with the Pontiff. After earning in 2015 a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, de Paula Souza left the religious congregation the following year in 2016. His formative journey with the Orionine Fathers came to a halt before priestly ordination.
Now married with two daughters, he graduated in 2019 with a Degree in Philosophy from the University of Salento in Lecce, southern Italy, and currently teaches Catholic religion at the Antonio Vallone Science and Linguistics High School in Galatina, Puglia. In Italy, Catholic religion has to be taught in all schools but students choose if to attend.
The appointment has reportedly caused a great deal of surprise within the Dicastery, which was instituted on September 1, 2016, and whose prefect is American Cardinal Kevin Farrell. By succeeding Father Alexandre Awi Mello, also Brazilian, Gleison de Paulo Souza becomes the first lay Secretary of this Dicastery.
Although tacitly reappointed for the time being, Cardinal Farrell’s five-year term as prefect expired on September 1, 2021, and he reached the theoretical retirement age of 75 on September 2, 2022. The upcoming appointment of a lay prefect, male or female, could be envisioned under the new rules promulgated in the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, which came into effect on June 5.
This dicastery is in charge of the organization of the next World Youth Day, to be held in August 2023 in Lisbon.