Pope Benedict's Address to Participants of Health Care Workers Conference

«This Concern for Health and Evangelization is Always your Task»

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Lord Cardinals,

Venerable brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,

Dear brothers and sisters!

I warmly welcome you! I thank the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Monsignor Zygmunt Zimowski, for the courteous words; I greet the illustrious speakers and all those present. The theme of your conference – “The Hospital, Place of Evangelization: Human and Spiritual Mission – offers me the occasion to extend my greeting to all of the Health Care Workers, especially the members of the Italian Catholic Physicians Association and the European Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, who, at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Rome reflected on the topic “Bioethics and Christian Europe.” I also greet the sick who are present, their families, the chaplains and volunteers, the members of the associations, in particular of UNITALSI (Italian National Union for the Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines), the students of the faculties of medicine and surgery and of the courses in health professions.

The Church always turns with the same spirit of fraternal sharing to those who experience pain, animated by the same Spirit of him who, with the power of love, returned meaning and dignity to the mystery of suffering. Vatican Council II said to these persons: you are “neither alone nor useless” because, united to the Cross of Christ, you contribute to his salvific work (cf. “Message to the Poor, the Sick and the Suffering,” 8, December, 1965). And with the same emphasis of hope the Church also addresses professionals and volunteers in the health field. Yours is a singular vocation that requires study, sensitivity and experience. Nevertheless, beyond academic titles, those who choose to work in the world of suffering, living this activity as a “human and spiritual mission” are required to have a further capacity. This is a “Christian science of suffering,” explicitly indicated by the Council as “the only truth capable of responding to suffering” and of bringing to the sick “comfort without illusions”: “It is not in power,” says the Council, “to procure your spiritual health, nor to alleviate your physical pains … We have, however, something much more precious and profound to give you … The Christ did not suppress suffering; nor did he wish entirely to uncover its mystery: he took it upon himself, and this is sufficient for us to understand its whole value” (ibid.). Of this “Christian science of suffering” you are the qualified experts! Your being Catholic, without fear, gives you a major responsibility in the sphere of society and the Church: this is a true vocation, as has been recently witnessed to by such exemplary figures as: St. Giuseppe Moscati, St. Ricardo Pampuri, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Anna Schäffer and the Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune.

And this is a duty of the new evangelization even in times of economic crisis that decrease resources to protect health. Precisely in this context hospitals and support structures must re-think their role to avoid health becoming another piece of merchandise subject to the laws of the market, and so a good reserved to a few, rather than a universal good to be secured and defended. The special attention owed to the dignity of suffering persons can never be forgotten, applying the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity also to the area of the politics of health (cf. “Caritas in veritate,” 58). Today, if on one hand – because of progress in the scientific-technological field – the ability to heal the sick has increased, on the other hand, the ability truly to care for suffering persons, considered in their totality and singularity, has diminished. Thus there is an obscuring of the ethical horizons of medical science, which risks forgetting that its vocation is to serve every man and the whole man in the different stages of his existence. It is to be hoped that the language of the “Christian science of suffering” – to which pertains compassion, solidarity, sharing, abnegation, gratuity, the gift of self – becomes the universal lexicon of those who work in the health care field. It is the language of the Good Samaritan of the Gospel parable, which can be considered, according to Bl. John Paul II, “one of the essential elements of moral culture and universally human civilization” (“Salvifici doloris,” 29). From this perspectives hospitals are seen as a privileged place of evangelization, because there where the Church becomes “the vehicle of the presence of God” she becomes at the same time “the instrument of a new humanization of man and of the world” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization,” 9). Only when it is quite clear that the center of medical and support activity is the well-being of man in his most fragile and vulnerable condition, of man in search of meaning before the unfathomable mystery of suffering, can the hospital be understood as a “place in which the relationship of care is not a career but a mission; where the charity of the Good Samaritan is the first seat of learning and the face of suffering man is the face of Christ himself” (Address to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Rome, May 3, 2012).

Dear friends, this concern for health and evangelization is always your task. Now more than ever our society needs “good samaritans” with a generous heart and with arms open to all with the awareness that the “measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer” (“Spe salvi,” 38). This “going beyond” the clinical approach opens the dimension of the transcendent to you. Chaplains and members of religious orders who work in health care have a fundamental role in this respect. It is their first duty to allow the glory of the risen crucified Christ to appear in the diversified panorama of health.

I save a final word for you dear persons who are sick. Your silent witness is the efficacious sign and instrument of evangelization for the people who care for you and for your families in the certainty that “no tear of those who suffer or those near to them is lost before God” (Angelus, February 1, 2009). You “are the brothers of the suffering Christ; and with him, if you allow him, you save the world!” (Vatican Council II, “Message”).

As I entrust all of you to the Virgin Mary, “Salus Infirmorum,” that she guide your steps and always make you industrious and tireless witnesses of the Christian science of suffering, I extend from my heart the apostolic benediction.

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