Tony Tersigni gripping hands with Pope Francis

​​​Ascension President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony R. Tersigni, EdD, FACHE, recently was invited to the Vatican for the inaugural session of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which coincided with the 50th Anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio. A dicastery is a department of the Roman Curia, the administration of the Holy See through which the pope directs the Catholic Church.

The conference was designed to study the theological, anthropological and pastoral perspectives of the encyclical, especially in relation to the labor of those who work in favor of promoting the person, and to formulate guidelines for the activity of the new dicastery. Pope Francis has given the dicastery responsibility for "issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture," he said. Ensuring that local churches offer appropriate material and spiritual assistance to the sick, migrants, refugees and itinerant people also is part of the new office's mandate.

The dicastery combined the work of four Pontifical Councils established following the Second Vatican Council: Justice and Peace, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, and Cor Unum (for human and Christian development).

At the conference, Tony had the opportunity to brief Pope Francis about the efforts of Ascension in caring for those who are poor and vulnerable in the United States, including last year providing $1.8 billion in care of persons living in poverty and other community benefit programs through the provision of charity care as well as activities such as Medical Mission at Home, which serves those who are struggling the most in communities Ascension serves.

He also talked with the Pope about the work of the International Confederation of Catholic H​ealth Care Institutions, which Tony serves as President. Its mandate is to participate actively in the mission of the Catholic Church in the promotion of health, healing, peace and reconciliation through the assistance and care of persons who are sick and suffering, with a special focus on persons who are poor and vulnerable.

"Whenever I have the privilege of speaking with Pope Francis, I am re-energized by his strength of purpose and deep commitment to those in need," Tony said. "As we've seen since he assumed his role leading the Church, the Pope is intensely interested in how the Church serves those living in poverty and marginalized by society. The work of the new dicastery brings together resources and expertise from a number of disciplines, including healthcare, to focus on these most vulnerable persons."

In addition to presentations by experts from different sectors, testimonies were offered showing how the Church "operates directly in favor of the weakest."

Others in attendance were representatives of the Episcopal Conferences (conferences of bishops) and their social and justice and peace commissions, representatives of international Catholic charitable organizations, and the diplomatic corps assigned to the Holy See.