Vatican City — Eight months after the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life officially began functioning, Pope Francis named a 46-year-old Brazilian priest to serve as its secretary.
The appointment of Schonstatt Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, who is completing a doctorate in Mariology at the University of Dayton's International Marian Research Institute, was announced May 31 at the Vatican.
U.S. Cardinal Kevin Farrell is prefect of the office for laity, family and life, which began operating last September. It was formed by uniting the pontifical councils for laity and for family.
Francis' statutes for the office give it responsibility "for the promotion of the life and apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God's plan and for the protection and support of human life."
The statutes also say that while the prefect will be a cardinal or bishop, the secretary "may be a layperson" and the three undersecretaries will be laypeople. The undersecretaries have not been appointed.
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Awi and Pope Francis have known each other for at least 10 years. In 2007, Awi worked in the secretariat of the drafting commission for the Latin American bishops' council meeting in Aparecida, Brazil. Then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio led the drafting commission.
The Brazilian priest also was by Francis' side in 2013, serving as his translator during the pope's visit to Brazil for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Awi was born Jan. 17, 1971, in Rio. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2001 as a member of the Schonstatt Fathers. He has experience ministering in Brazilian parishes and currently serves as national director of the Schonstatt Movement for Brazil.
He also is the author of a book on Pope Francis' Marian devotion.