Our brother Diogo Escudero, OFM Cap., spent his summer as a researcher for the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC. He certainly has the credentials, but, as the article describes, he appears to got along really well because of his "calming, disarming demeanor—plus he is respectful, humble and funny." OK. That's quite a resume. Oh, he also has a few degrees too, but that's another story. What follows is an excerpt of the article that recently appeared on the Center's website. We're proud that they highlighted his seldom recognized expertise - and the faith that we share with him.
Most of the research happening at Georgetown University on any given day is taking place at the Medical Center. With more than 400 scientists and 300 active clinical trials, GUMC is home to the university's largest research enterprise. How does the Jesuit, Catholic tradition impact the pursuit of biomedical research on campus? Do religious values overly limit academic freedoms that researchers would have at other secular institutions?
“I’ve had people ask me if the institution gets in the way of us doing things,” says Robert Clarke, dean for research at the Medical Center and professor of oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. “For me, it doesn’t.”
Clarke believes that people who choose to work at Georgetown accept that it may place some limitations on what they can do in their work, but that it’s not overly intrusive. For him, the benefits of the Jesuit approach far outweigh any perceived drawbacks . . .
While many scientists avoid an outward expression of spirituality in the workplace, if you happen to also be a Capuchin Franciscan friar, there’s not much choice in the matter. The long, brown hooded robe, tied at the waist with a white rope, offers a pretty big clue that you are part of a religious order.
For Brother Diogo Escudero, working in Clarke’s lab this summer has been a positive experience. Originally from Brazil, he now commutes by Metro each day from his residence near Catholic University to the lab in the Basic Science building at Georgetown’s Medical Center. At first nervous about how people on campus and at work would react to his appearance in the traditional habit, so far he’s been pleasantly surprised.
“To be honest I was a little scared, walking in dressed like this, especially working in science,” Escudero explains. “But people at Georgetown have been very friendly, asking me what I am—a priest, or a monk—and asking about things like evolution. I’ve had many conversations about faith and science. It’s been a beautiful time here.”
He is working with Ayesha Shajahan-Haq on a cancer study looking at exosomes. “These vesicles are secreted by cells in a lot of different scenarios, in both biologically normal scenarios and in cancer,” says Escudero. “We’re looking at differences between cancer cell lines for examples of what proteins are present in these vesicles. We hope to better understand their role in resistance to therapy and in the process the cancer’s spread—the metastasis. There’s a lot of literature showing that cancer cells use this mechanism—shedding vesicles filled with proteins—to prepare the place that it wants to go. If we understand this process, we can understand cancer better.”
When Shajahan-Haq read his application for the internship, she was intrigued by Escudero’s excellent education, training, and publication record. And his status as a Capuchin friar. When he came for the interview, he was even more intriguing, she says.
“He has a calming, disarming demeanor—plus he is respectful, humble and funny. Not only is he an extremely hard worker, he is often the first to break the ice with others, and he never hesitates to poke a little fun at himself. I find Brother Diogo to be an ideal trainee. He listens, learns, questions, studies, participates, helps and enjoys while he is working in the lab,” says Shajahan-Haq.“Also, I think we all behave a little better and hold back our tongues in his presence!” she adds with a smile.
Escudero finds Georgetown a very accepting place, noting that people at the university are used to having members of religious communities working in the sciences. “Being a Jesuit school makes it easier, with scientists like Fr. Kevin FitzGerald here,” he says.
In the lab, Escudero says he finds great joy looking closely at God’s work. “Scientists have such a beautiful call to make God’s greatness, his beauty, his wisdom known though the intricacy and the complexity of biology. It’s so beautiful how everything is connected. The more we know, the less we know— which is kind of like faith.”
Embrace the Suffering in Mercy
In May, Brother Diogo Escudero spoke with a group of breast cancer survivors, the Georgetown Breast Cancer Advocates, to share his views on faith and science. He told of his personal journey with God, including a call to the priesthood in his teens that he ignored, years of study, partying, and meaningless relationships while in graduate school, and an eventual calling to grow closer to God, which led him to join the Capuchin Franciscans. He described it as a profound conversion experience that took place over a few months, a fire lit by a spark from a small book about living a simple faith by St. Therese Lisieux, “The Little Flower.”
Escudero recalls a question from one of the participants about how to respond to weary cancer patients who want nothing to do with medicine, saying God will heal.
“When patients go to the doctor and keep hearing bad news, it’s normal for people to behave that way,” says Escudero. “Death is such an unknown in our lives. It’s something we can’t escape. But for people in those situations with fear, medicine is there, and cancer is not the death sentence that it used to be.” He advised the advocates to embrace these patients with mercy, accepting the gift of God’s grace to be in a situation where they can touch people’s lives when they are most vulnerable, when disease like cancer causes such deep fear. He suggested they gently explain that God needs everyone to take care of themselves using all means available—including medicine.
And when in doubt, he says, turn to Scripture.
“God can certainly work miracles, and on occasions He does. But often He desires us to experience His healing and love through one another. The Old Testament—The Book of Sirach, Chapter 38 —says that God has given doctors wisdom, so use doctors when needed. God has given them the gift of knowledge and most importantly the compassion to see and treat a suffering person. The Gospels talk about our duty to care for every little person who is suffering. When you are taking care of that person, you are taking care of the suffering Christ.”