Pope Francis appointed Taiwan’s former vice president, Chen Chien-jen, to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
The 70-year-old epidemiologist is the second Taiwanese citizen to join the prestigious institution, preceded by Nobel laureate in chemistry Lee Yuan-tseh.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a scientific academy of the Vatican that was established in 1936 by Pope Pius XI.
The academy aims to promote the progress of mathematical, physical, and natural sciences and the study of related epistemological problems.
The announcement of Chen’s appointment was made by the Vatican on July 30.
Chen, a devout Catholic, is currently a lecturer at Academia Sinica in Taipei. He was vice president of Taiwan from 2016 to 2020.
In May last year, shortly before leaving his government post, Chen denounced China’s move to block Taiwan from the World Health Organization Assembly that was supposed to decide on coordinated global actions to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Chen has been credited for Taiwan’s success in containing the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic primarily because of his experience as health minister during the outbreak of SARS in 2003.
In 2006, the health expert led the National Science Council of Taiwan in 2008. He served as a vice president of Academia Sinica from 2011 to 2015.
He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Fu Jen Catholic University before running for the presidential election.
Chen was born in Cishan, Kaohsiung County, in 1951. His father, Chen Hsin-an, served as Kaohsiung County Magistrate from 1954 to 1957. Chen’s mother Chen Wei Lien-chih managed a daycare.
Chen and his wife were invited to visit the Vatican several times by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. He has been invested as a Knight of the Equestrian of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 2010 and a Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great in 2013.
Chen obtained a master’s degree in public health from the National Taiwan University, and received his Sc.D in human genetics and epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University in 1977 and 1982, respectively.
He began his medical career by researching hepatitis B, and helped raise awareness about vaccination for the disease in Taiwan. He further researched on liver cancer risk of people with hepatitis B.