VATICAN CITY, AUG. 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Doctor Patrizio Polisca still remembers the words of Sister Charity, a Spanish religious who managed a hospital in Rome where he worked: “You will have to go because one day you will be the Pope’s doctor” — words that turned out to be prophetic.
Polisca has worked in various capacities linked to papal health services for more than two decades. He was appointed Benedict XVI’s personal physician in July 2009 and last month, he assumed responsibilities as the director of health services for Vatican City State.
The Pope’s doctor spoke with L’Osservatore Romano on Saturday about his work, saying in this new position, he will be following a well-marked path.
He said he knows the staff and that “now it is a question of coordinating and fulfilling together an important mission.”
Doctor Polisca is a husband and father of three, and a specialist in infectious diseases, cardiology, anesthesia and resuscitation.
In 1987, his predecessor, Renato Buzzonetti, called him for an interview. And Polisca was asked to become part of the medical team at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo during the holidays.
He recalled that that summer, he met Pope John Paul II for the first time. The Holy Father “had celebrated Mass and I saw him in the courtyard of the palace. His private secretary, Father Stanislaw [Dziwisz], introduced me to him saying, ‘He is the doctor on call today,’ to which the Pope responded: ‘So young?’
“At that moment I realized what was happening to me. I was before the Pope. I was there for him, if he had need of a doctor.”
“The face of Karol Wojtyla, who smiled after those words, lifted me up,” the doctor confessed. “And it was precisely then that Mother Charity’s words came back to my mind: an unforgettable sensation, which still today gives me shivers.”
Serving the Church
Polisca held this post until 1994, when he was asked to become part of the Vatican medical team. His first trip with the Pontiff was to Cuba in January of 1998: “I remember every moment with joy, almost every face I met. […] The magnetism [John Paul II] exercised over the multitudes impressed me a lot.”
From 2003 the doctor began to follow all the Pope’s trips. He recounted: “In Bratislava the Pope had a small but very painful accident when he was returning to the nunciature.
“The pain he felt was so acute that it caused a respiratory crisis. He had a panic attack, a situation he had never experienced before. However the problem was well resolved in a matter of minutes.”
The Pope’s doctor also spoke about the last moments he was with John Paul II. “I stayed by his side from Thursday afternoon until Saturday morning. Then I kissed his forehead and I left. I don’t think he recognized me. I wasn’t with him when he expired.”
He also referred to his work in the Vatican, which “Providence has guided.”
Polisca says it has brought him to understand the meaning of membership in the Church: “I became aware of what it means to serve the Pope and, through him, the Church.”
He also recalled Benedict XVI’s election. “Buzzonetti and I were the first laymen to be greeted by the Pope.” A greeting that brought him many surprises because, on seeing him, the new Bishop of Rome remembered a conversation they had had in 1990 on St. Bonaventure. “I was speechless, incapable of any reaction. I was so surprised I couldn’t say anything; perhaps with one of those strange smiles when one doesn’t know what to say.”
The doctor also spoke about the demands of his new post. “Precisely because of the great responsibilities I acquire, I have the duty to be constantly up-to-date,” he said.
“That is why I am in the Tor Vergata university polyclinic, where I work in the cardio-surgery team and I am also in charge of a very complex clinic.”
“There is also the need to continue studying. I do this primarily on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.
Polisca also heads the medical commission that examines miraculous cases in the Congregation for Saints’ Causes: “To be on this team is an honor for me. We are called to give our opinion on miraculous cures, those that cannot be explained by science and are attributed to the intercession of saints.”
The Pope’s doctor concluded his conversation with L’Osservatore Romano by sharing the meaning of his vocation: “I cannot think of my life without the responsibility to the Pope and to the Church. I live it, rather, as a joy that I share with my family.” A job that enables him to realize his dream: “to practice the medical profession and have the possibility to do so in a dimension that is always mine: the Christian, to the utmost of its earthly expression.”