Commentary Magazine

The Toddler and the Pontiff

Alfie Evans lives. This is a biological fact. But it is a fact that opens a window into a transcendent dimension. The Liverpool toddler whom a British judge condemned to death—by ordering his respirator removed and barring his parents from seeking additional treatment in Italy—has been breathing independently for the better part of a week. His doctors figured that Alfie wouldn’t survive more than a few minutes without his respirator, and Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court took this incorrect prognostication as an alibi for a judicially sanctioned killing.

But Alfie lives. His defiance of Britain’s administrative elite bears a profound witness to the essential mystery of life and death—and the failure of secularism and scientism to bring that mystery under man’s full dominion. Indeed, five days after Justice Hayden’s decision, it is hard to avoid the sense that Providence is using Alfie to slap down secularism’s certainties: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor” (Prov. 3:34).

The immediate heroes of this drama are Alfie and his parents, Tom and Kate. Alfie’s will to live, and his parents’ refusal to give up on their son, have helped shine a searing spotlight on medical and judicial despotism in the U.K. and galvanized a global pro-life uprising. Other heroes in Alfie’s army include Polish President Andrzej Duda, European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani, British broadcaster Piers Morgan (whose usual bombast, in this case, is more than welcome), and countless millions worldwide who have been praying for Alfie and taking to social media to express their outrage.

None of this would have come about, however, were it not for Pope Francis.

From the beginning, the pope has accompanied Alfie and his parents in his simple but firm pastoral way. He granted Tom an audience earlier this month and tweeted in support of his and Kate’s desire to have Alfie treated elsewhere. Taking their cue from the pope, Italian officials conferred citizenship on Alfie on Monday and launched a diplomatic push to rescue him. But Francis didn’t stop there. He also reportedly prepared a military air ambulance to evacuate Alfie to Bambino Gesù, the Vatican pediatric hospital.

The pope’s efforts have so far failed to move U.K. officials. Yet Francis has already moved the world with his resolute stance on the inherent dignity of all life, united Catholics hitherto bitterly divided on doctrinal matters, and revealed the Church’s immense power to inspire activism. This is Francis’ “be not afraid” moment—reminiscent of John Paul’s pilgrimage to Poland in 1979, which set Soviet Communism on the path toward the dustbin of history. Only, now Francis’ “be not afraid” is directed at people of faith living under a wretched culture of death that would condemn a 23-month-old to slow asphyxiation and starvation.

With every minute that passes, the odds of a successful rescue get longer. But there is one long-shot hope left. Imagine for a moment if Pope Francis decided to fly to Liverpool for a pastoral visit to Alfie and his parents. Who would dare stop him? Now imagine if, at the end of the visit, the pope insisted that Alfie is coming to Rome with him. Again, who would dare stop him? Would the police officers posted outside Alfie’s room and at the entrance to the hospital dare block his way? Would the security forces dare arrest the successor of Peter? Now imagine the impact of such a scene on the world’s conscience. A pontiff and a toddler could change the course of Western history.

Go to Liverpool, your holiness!

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