Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave today when he received in audience the participants in the 30th International Conference, organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry on the subject “The Culture of Salus and of Hospitality at the Service of Man and of the Planet” (Vatican, November 19-21, 2015).
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you for your reception! I thank His Excellency Monsignor Zygmunt Zimowski for the courteous greeting he addressed to me on behalf of all those present, and I give my cordial welcome to you, organizers and participants of this 30th International Conference, dedicated to “The Culture of Salus and of Hospitality at the Service of Man and of the Planet.” A heartfelt thank you to all the collaborators of the Dicastery.
Many are the questions that will be addressed in this annual meeting, which marks the 30 years of activity of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry (for Health Pastoral Care), and which also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae of Saint John Paul II.
In fact respect for the value of life and, even more so, love of it, finds irreplaceable accomplishment in making oneself close, in taking care of those that suffer in body and in spirit: all actions that characterize health care ministry. Actions and, even first, attitudes that the Church will highlight especially during the Jubilee of Mercy, which calls us all to be close to our most suffering brothers and sisters. In Evangelium Vitae we can trace the constitutive elements of the “culture of salus”: namely, hospitality, compassion, understanding and forgiveness. They are the habitual attitudes of Jesus in his relations with the multitude of needy persons that approached him every day: the sick of all sorts, public sinners, demoniacs, the marginalized, the poor, strangers … And, curiously, in our throwaway culture, they are rejected, they are left to one side. They don’t count. It’s curious … what does this mean? That the throwaway culture is not of Jesus, it‘s not Christian.
Such attitudes are those that the Encyclical calls “positive requirements” of the Commandment about the inviolability of life, which, with Jesus, are manifested in all their breadth and depth, and which again today can, better yet, must, distinguish health care ministry: they “range from caring for the life of one’s brother (whether a blood brother, someone belonging to the same people, or a foreigner living in the land of Israel) to showing concern for the stranger, even to the point of loving one’s enemy.” (n. 41).
This closeness to the other – true, not feigned closeness – to the point of regarding him as someone that belongs to me – an enemy also belongs to me as brother – surmounts every barrier of nationality, of social extraction, of religion … as the “Good Samaritan” of the Gospel parable teaches us. It also surpasses that culture in a negative sense, according to which, be it in rich countries or in poor ones, human beings are accepted or rejected according to utilitarian criteria, in particular, social or economic utility. This mentality is parent of the so-called “medicine of desires”: an ever more widespread custom in rich countries, characterized by the quest at any cost of physical perfection, in the illusion of eternal youthfulness; a custom that in fact induces to discard or marginalize those that are not “efficient,” those who are regarded as a burden, a disturbance, or are simply ugly.
Likewise, “making oneself close” – as I reminded in my recent Encyclical Laudato Si’ – also implies assuming unbreakable responsibilities towards Creation and the “common home,” which belongs to all and is entrusted to the care of all, also for the coming generations.
The anxiety that the Church nourishes, in fact, is for the fate of the human family and of the whole of creation. It is about educating everyone to “look after” and to “administer” Creation as a whole, as a gift entrusted to the responsibility of every generation, so that it is handed all the more whole and humanly liveable to the coming generations. This conversion of the heart to the “Gospel of Creation” implies making our own and rendering ourselves interpreters of the cry for human dignity, which is raised above all by the poorest and excluded, as sick and suffering persons often are. In the now imminent Jubilee of Mercy, may this cry find a sincere echo in our hearts, so that in the exercise of works of mercy, corporal and spiritual, according to the different responsibilities entrusted to each one, we can also receive the gift of God’s grace, while we ourselves render ourselves “channels” and witnesses of mercy.
I hope that in these days of reflection and debate, in which you also consider the environmental factor in its aspects linked in the main to a person’s physical, psychic, spiritual and social health, you are able to contribute to a new development of the culture of salus, understood also in an integral sense. I encourage you, in this perspective, to always have present in your endeavors the reality of those populations, which in the main suffer the damages that stem from environmental degradation, grave damages, often permanent to health. And, speaking of these damages that stem form environmental degradation, it is a surprise for me to find – when I go to the Wednesday Audience or to parishes – so many sick people, especially children … The parents say to me: “He has a rare illness! They don’t know what it is.” These rare illnesses are the consequence of the sickness that we inflict on the environment. And this is grave!
Let us ask Mary Most Holy, Health of the Sick, to accompany the works of your conference. We entrust to her the commitment that, daily, the different professional figures of the world of health carry out in favor of the suffering. I bless you all from my heart, your families, your communities, as well as all those you meet in hospitals and in nursing homes. I pray for you and you, please, pray for me. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]