Pope Francis Vaccine PSA Initiated By Chicago Priest Who Gave Last Rites to Latino Victims of Pandemic

A new groundbreaking PSA by Pope Francis released Wednesday urges everyone to get vaccinated, saying the vaccines bring hope to end the pandemic, but only if people work together to get the shot and make it available to all.

"Getting the vaccines that are authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love," Pope Francis says in the first Ad Council PSA to be distributed beyond the United States. "And helping the majority of people to do so is an act of love. Love for oneself, love for our families and friends."

But the story of how the Pope came to be part of a PSA that features Latin American and Caribbean archbishops and cardinals in an effort to reduce vaccine hesitancy among U.S. Latinos, many of whom still view the church as one of the community's most trusted messengers, had its beginnings in Chicago with Father Manuel Dorantes.

Dorantes, widely known as Father Manny, told Newsweek in May of giving last rites to Latinos during the height of the pandemic last year, including the heartbreaking story of FaceTiming a man's family as they sang Happy Birthday to him in Spanish because he was dying on his birthday.

Father Manny is a member of the Ad Council's Faith Leader's Task Force, and became interested in the data side of how to show Latinos the vaccine is safe so more of them don't have to die because of a lack of information. He suggested what seemed at the time a far-fetched idea of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) featuring the Pope.

He had a connection to Rome, having worked on communications projects with the Vatican, but he knew it was no sure thing.

"I said it's a long shot," Father Manny told Newsweek. "Everybody asks the Holy Father for messages. I'm not going to promise anything."

Still, he understood the urgency.

"With the ongoing pandemic, new variants, and high hesitation rate among Latinos to get vaccinated," Father Manny said, "the question is who do Latinos trust, and not only trust, but how can we make this message get to them in a robust way."

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the Vatican spokesperson for the effort and one of the most high-profile Latino clergy leaders in the United States, spoke to Newsweek about the goals of the PSA.

"The Holy Father Pope Francis and my brother bishops from Central and South America are encouraging those who are able to receive the vaccine to do so," he said. "We hope that by encouraging vaccination we can stop the spread of this pandemic and build the community of fraternity and mutual concern that our Holy Father is calling us to."

Pope Francis, who was vaccinated earlier this year, has shown interest in promoting the vaccine to adherents, previously calling it an "ethical obligation" and "morally acceptable."

But Father Manny and the Ad Council understood that the PSA had to go beyond a United States lens, because "the Vatican is a state and they would not want the Holy Father as head of Vatican City to interfere in the local politics of a nation," Dorantes said.

That door was unlocked for Father Manny when he realized that Mexican news reports also said they were having trouble with vaccine hesitancy, with a culprit familiar to close observers of the 2020 U.S. election: Spanish-language disinformation on social media platforms.

He explained that in Mexico many people who were hesitant to get the vaccine had their doubts confirmed by a YouTube video featuring a person in a lab coat claiming that the vaccines weren't safe, echoing the 2020 battle. That experience showed the power of trusted messengers.

The Ad Council is doing a virtual event for Latinos and the faith community on August 25 that will be streamed on Telemundo network with faith leaders, medical experts, and national Latino grassroots groups, where Eva Longoria will introduce the new PSA.

It is also being shared with TV stations in every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, part of the ongoing Ad Council effort to combat vaccine hesitancy among communities of color.

But Father Manny also sees it as an extension of his life's work as a priest.

"The Latino community is most affected by the virus, many are the least-privileged immigrants, who don't have access to health insurance, so if you don't get the vaccine when it's free, it really is a tragedy," he said. "We the church who claim to bring the word of Jesus, this is part of that mission. Going against lies is a coherent part of that mission as is using this trust that the people of God have in their shepherds."

pope francis vaccine psa
Pope Francis has joined the effort to get everyone vaccinated, including Latinos who are hesitant to do so. YouTube PSA

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