VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave last Saturday to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

It is a great joy to meet with you on the occasion of the 26th international conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers that has as its theme "Health Pastoral Care, Serving Life in the Light of the Magisterium of Blessed John Paul II." I am pleased to greet the bishops who oversee pastoral care in the health field, who have come together for the first time at the tomb of the Apostle Peter to confirm collegial approaches in this very delicate sphere of the Church's mission. I express my gratitude to the dicastery for its valuable service, beginning with the president, Monsignor Zygmunt Zimowski, whom I thank for the cordial words that he addressed to me and in which he also illustrated the work done during the conference. I also greet the secretary and undersecretary, both of whom were recently appointed, the officials and personnel along with the speakers and experts, the heads of the curial institutes, the health care workers, all those present and those who helped to organize the conference.

I am certain that your reflections contributed to a better understanding of "The Gospel of Life," the precious legacy of the magisterium of Blessed John Paul II. In 1985 he established this Pontifical Council to give [this message of life] a concrete witness in the vast and complex sphere of health care. Twenty years ago he instituted the celebration of the World Day of the Sick and he also launched the Good Samaritan Foundation [in 2004] as an instrument for charitable assistance to the poorest of the sick in various countries. I would like to call for a renewed commitment to the support of this foundation.

Over the long and intense years of his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II proclaimed that serving persons sick in body and spirit is a constant part of the ecclesial community's commitment to evangelization, following Jesus' command to the Twelve to go forth and heal the infirm (cf. Luke 9:2). In particular in the apostolic letter "Salvifici doloris" of February 11, 1984, my venerable predecessor states: "Suffering seems to belong to man's transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense 'destined' to go beyond himself, and he is called to this in a mysterious way" (2). The mystery of suffering seems to obscure the face of God, almost making him a stranger, or even identifying him as the one responsible for human suffering, but the eyes of faith can see into the depths of this mystery. God became incarnate, he drew near to man, even in the most difficult situations; he did not eliminate suffering, but in the Crucified and Risen One, in the Son of God who suffered unto death, and death on a cross, he reveals that his love descends even into man's deepest abyss to bring him hope. The Crucified One is risen; Easter morning illumines death: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that whoever should believe in him would not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). In the Son, who was "given" for the salvation of humanity, the truth of love is, in a certain way, demonstrated through the truth of suffering, and the Church, born from the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ, "has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man 'becomes the way for the Church,' and this way is one of the most important ones" ("Salvifici doloris," 3).

Dear friends, your service of accompaniment, of nearness to our brothers who are sick, alone, often suffering from physical wounds but spiritual and moral wounds too, places you in a privileged position to bear witness to the salvific action of God, his love for man and the world, which embraces even the most painful and terrible situations. The Face of the Savior, dying upon the cross, of the Son who is consubstantial with the Father and suffers for us as a man (cf. ibid., 17) teaches us to protect and promote life, in whatever stage and in whatever condition it is found, recognizing the dignity and value of every single human being, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27) and called to eternal life.

This vision of pain and suffering illuminated by the death and resurrection of Christ was born witness to by the slow Calvary of the final years of life of Blessed John Paul II, to whom we can apply the words of St. Paul: "I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church" (Colossians 1:24). Firm and certain faith pervaded his physical weakness, rendering his sickness -- endured for the love of God, the Church and the world -- a concrete participation in the way of Christ, even to Calvary.

The "sequela Christi" (following of Christ) did not spare Blessed John Paul II from taking up his own cross every day to the very end, to be like his only Master and Lord, who from the cross became a point of attraction and salvation for humanity (cf. John 12:32; 19:37) and manifested his glory (cf. Mark 15:39). In the homily of the Holy Mass for the beatification of my venerable predecessor I recalled how "the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a 'rock,' as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined" (Homily, May 1, 2011).

Dear friends, treasuring the witness that Blessed John Paul II lived in his own flesh, I hope that you too, in the exercise of your pastoral ministry and in your professional work, might discover in the glorious tree of the cross of Christ "the fulfillment and the complete revelation of the whole Gospel of life" ("Evangelium vitae," 50). In the service you provide in the various fields of health ministry, may you too experience that "only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much He loves me" ("Deus Caritas est," 18).

I entrust each of you, the sick, the families of all health care workers to the maternal intercession of Mary, and I gladly bestow upon you from my heart the apostolic blessing.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]