Defend, respect and promote life.
Pope Francis stressed this to some 300 members of the Italian Catholic Association of Healthcare Workers. The Pontiff received them today, May 17, in the Hall of the Consistory of the Apostolic Vatican Palace.
The Holy Father expressed his gratitude to the healthcare workers for their important work, reminded them to always treat patients as people, “not numbers,” and recognized the ever greater ethical challenges nowadays.
Stressing that life must be protected, he also noted that ‘conscientious objection’ must be done in a respectful way.
“To keep your spirit always alive,” the Holy Father underscored, “I exhort you to be faithful to prayer and to be nourished by the Word of God.”
“May you be inspired by the example of constancy and dedication of the Saints: in fact, so many, among them, served with love and selflessness the sick, especially the most abandoned.”
Pope Francis concluded, entrusting them to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to which their Association is consecrated. “May She, who practiced hospitality and charity, remain always for us refuge in toil and model of service to brothers,” he said.
Here is a Zenit translation of the Pope’s address:
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
I greet you all, members of the Catholic Association of Health Workers, in particular your President, whom I thank for his words, and the Ecclesiastical Consultant. I’m happy to meet with you and to share with you the intent to defend and promote life, beginning with those that are most vulnerable and needy of assistance, because they are sick, or elderly, or marginalized, or because they come into existence and ask to be received and looked after. To all of these, you offer in different ways an irreplaceable service every time that, as health workers, you give them the care of which they are in need and the closeness that sustains them in their fragility.
The observance of the 40th anniversary of CAHW’s foundation spurs you to thank the Lord for what you have received from the Association and for having granted you to work in this time for the improvement of the health system and of the conditions of work of all health workers, as well as the condition of the sick and their families, who are the first recipients of your commitment.
Over the last decades, the system of assistance and care has been radically transformed, and with that the way has also changed of understanding medicine and the relationship itself with the sick <person>. Technology has attained sensational and unexpected goals and has opened the way to new techniques of diagnosis and care, posing ever more strongly problems of an ethical character. In fact, many hold that any possibility offered by technology is per se morally feasible, but, in reality, any medical practice or intervention on the human being must first be assessed <to see> if it actually respects human life and dignity. The practice of conscientious objection, in extreme cases in which the integrity of human life is put in danger, is therefore based on the personal need not to act in a different way from one’s ethical conviction, but it also represents a sign for the health environment in which we find ourselves, as well as in relations with the patients themselves and their families.
However, the choice of objection, when necessary, is done with respect, so that what should be done with humility doesn’t become a reason for contempt or pride, <in order> not to generate in those that observe you an equal contempt, which would impede understanding the true motivations that drive you. Instead, it’s good to always seek dialogue, especially with those that have different positions, listening to their point of view and seeking to transmit your own, not as one who pontificates, but as one who seeks the true good of persons. To make ourselves travel companions of those that are next to us, in particular the least, the most forgotten, the excluded: this is the best way to understand in depth and in truth the different situations and the moral good that is implied.
This is also the way to render the best witness of the Gospel, which casts on the person the powerful light that continues to be projected by the Lord Jesus on every human being. In fact, Christ’s humanity is the inexhaustible treasure and the greatest school, from which to learn continually. He, with His gestures and words, has made us feel the touch and voice of God and has taught that every individual, first of all one who is least, isn’t a number but a unique and irreplaceable person.
In fact, the effort to treat the sick as persons and not as numbers must be made in our time, keeping in mind the form that the health system has assumed progressively. Its corporatization, which ha put in the first place the need to reduce costs and the rationalization of services, has profoundly changed the approach to sickness and to the sick person himself, with preference for efficiency and not rarely has put in the second place attention to the person, who has the need to be understood, listened to and accompanied, all the more when he has need of a proper diagnosis and an effective cure.
Among other things, healing passes not only from the body but also from the spirit, from the capacity to rediscover trust and to react; so that the sick person cannot be treated as a machine, nor can the health system, public or private, conceive itself as an assembly line. Persons are never the same among themselves; they are understood and cured one by one. This obviously calls for, on the part of health workers, a notable commitment, which is often not sufficiently understood and appreciated.
The care you give the sick, so demanding and overwhelming, calls for care to be taken also of you. In fact, in an environment where the sick person becomes a number, you also risk becoming so and of being “burnt” by very hard work shifts, by the stress of the emergencies or by the emotional impact. Therefore, it’s important that health workers have adequate protection in their work, that they receive the correct recognition for the tasks they carry out and be able to enjoy the appropriate instruments to always be motivated and formed. In fact, formation has always been an objective that your Association has pursued, and I invite you to take it forward with determination, in a moment in which often the most basic values of respect and protection of the life of all is often lost sight of. May the formation you propose be not only comparison, study and updating, but give particular care to spirituality, so that this fundamental dimension of the person is rediscovered and appreciated, which is often neglected in our time but is so important, especially for one who is living a sickness or is close to the one suffering.
I also encourage you to value always the associative experience, addressing with new impetus the challenges that await you in the realms we have considered together. A good synergy between the regional headquarters will enable the strengths of individuals and of various local groups not to remain isolated but be coordinated and be multiplied.
To keep your spirit always alive, I exhort you to be faithful to prayer and to be nourished by the Word of God. May you be inspired by the example of constancy and dedication of the Saints: in fact, so many, among them, served with love and selflessness the sick, especially the most abandoned.
Dear friends, I accompany you with my prayer in your precious task of witness. I entrust you to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to which your Association is consecrated. May She, who practiced hospitality and charity, remain always for us refuge in toil and model of service to brothers. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
Defend, respect and promote life.