Fr Alexandre Awi Mello, who will serve in the dicastery for laity, family and life, has written a book about Francis's devotion to Mary

Eight months after the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life officially began functioning, Pope Francis has 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 on Wednesday at the Vatican.

US Cardinal Kevin Farrell is prefect of the dicastery, which began operating last September. It was formed by uniting the pontifical councils for laity and for family.

Pope Francis’s 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 lay person” and the three undersecretaries will be lay people. The undersecretaries have not been appointed.

Fr Awi and Pope Francis have known each other for at least 10 years. In 2007, Fr 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 was also by Pope Francis’s side in 2013, serving as his translator during the Pope’s visit to Brazil for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.

Fr Awi was born on January 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 is also the author of a book on Pope Francis’s Marian devotion.