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Pope's Address to Medical Associations of Spain, Latin America

‘The doctor’s identity and commitment not only leans on his knowledge and technical competence, but primarily on his compassionate (he ‘suffers-with’) and merciful attitude to those suffering in body and spirit.’

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Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Medical Associations of Spain and Latin America Thursday morning in the Vatican:
Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning!
I am happy to meet with all of you, members of the Latin American Medical Associations. I thank Dr Rodriguez Sendin, President of the Collegial Medical Organization of Spain, for his kind words.
This year, the Catholic Church is celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy, and this is a good occasion to acknowledge and express gratitude to all the health professionals that, with their dedication, closeness and professionalism to persons suffering an illness, can become a true personification of mercy. The doctor’s identity and commitment not only leans on his knowledge and technical competence, but primarily on his compassionate (he suffers-with) and merciful attitude to those suffering in body and spirit. Compassion is in some way the very soul of medicine. Compassion is not pity, but to suffer-with.
In our technological and individualist culture, compassion is not always well regarded; on occasions, it is held with contempt because it means subjecting the individual that receives it to a humiliation. Moreover, there is not lack of those that shield themselves in an alleged compassion to justify and approve the death of a patient. And it’s not so. True compassion does not marginalize, humiliate or exclude anyone, and much less does it consider his demise as something good. True compassion, assumes it. You well know that that would mean the triumph of egoism, of that “disposable culture” that rejects and has contempt for individuals that do not fulfill specific canons of health, beauty or usefulness. I like to bless doctors’ hands as a sign of recognition of that compassion that becomes a caress of health.
Health is one of the most cherished and desired gifts by all. The biblical tradition has always highlighted the closeness between salvation and health, as well as their mutual and numerous implications. I like to remember that title with which the Church Fathers employed in reference to Christ and his work of salvation: Christus Medicus. He is the Good Shepherd who cares for the wounded sheep and comforts the sick (cf. Ez 34,16); he is the Good Samaritan who does not pass before the badly injured person by the wayside but, moved by compassion, he heals and serves (cf. Lk 10.33 to 34). Christian medical tradition has always been inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is identified with the love of the Son of God, who ‘went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed’ (Acts 10:38). How much good the practice of medicine does in thinking of the sick person as our neighbor, as our flesh and blood, and the mystery of the flesh of Christ himself reflected in his wounded body! ‘Every time you did it to one of these, my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40).
Compassion, this suffering-with, is the appropriate answer to the immense value of the sick person, an answer made of respect, understanding and tenderness, because the sacred value of the sick person’s life never disappears or is obscured, but it shines with more splendor precisely in his suffering and helplessness. This is what is understood when St. Camillo de Lellis says with respect to treating patients: «Put more heart in those hands.» Fragility, pain and disease are a tough test for everyone, including medical staff; they are a call to patience, to suffer-with; therefore one cannot yield to the temptation to apply quick, merely functional and drastic solutions driven by false compassion or by criteria of efficiency or cost savings. At stake is the dignity of human life; at stake is the dignity of the medical vocation.
I return to what I said about blessing doctors’ hands. And although in the exercise of medicine, speaking technically, asepsis is necessary, at the core of the medical vocation asepsis goes against compassion; asepsis is a necessary medical means in the exercise but it must never affect the essence of that compassionate heart. It must never affect that “put more heart in those hands.”
Dear friends, I assure you of my appreciation for the effort you make to dignify your profession more every day and to accompany, look after and value the immense gift that individuals are who are suffering because of illness. I assure you of my prayer for you: you can do so much good, so much good, for yourselves and your families because, how many times your families have to support you, enduring the vocation of a doctor, which is like a priesthood. And I ask you also to never cease praying for me. Thank you very much.
[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]  

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