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Friday, February 10, 2017

Pope's words for the Italian Commission for Charity and Health

At 12:20pm today, in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience a group of participants who are attending a Meeting organized by the Italian Bishops' Conference's Commission for Charity and Health, one day prior to the commemoration of the 25th World Day of the Sick and the 20th anniversary of the founding of the National Office for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers.

Address of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
to members of the Commission for Charity and Health

Dear brothers and sisters,

I warmly welcome all of you.  I thank Cardinal Montenegro for is introduction and I greet all the Bishops who are here, the National Consultation, the Diocesan Office Directors and their collaborators who have come to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Day of the Sick and the 20th anniversary of the National Office for the Pastoral Care of Health Workers.

We thank the Lord for the journey that has been completed up to now, for all that has been done for the good of promoting the integral care of the sick and for the generosity of many men and women who have accepted Jesus' invitation to visit him in the person of those who are sick (cf Mt 25:36).  These have been years which have been marked by significant social and cultural changes, and today we can say that the situation has both light and shadows.  Certainly, scientific research has progressed and we are grateful for the precious research that has been accomplished in order to cure, if not to defeat some pathologies.  I hope that this same commitment will be ensured for the fight against rare and neglected diseases, which do not always receive the attention that is due and therefore run the risk of giving rise to further suffering.  We praise the Lord also for all the health workers who believe that their work is a mission, that they are ministers of life and that they participate in the boundless love of God our creator; every day, their hands touch the suffering flesh of Christ, and this is a great honour and a grave responsibility.  We also welcome the presence of many volunteers who, with generosity and competence, work to alleviate and to humanize the long and difficult days experienced by many of those who are sick, elderly and lonely, especially the poor and the needy.  And here I pause to recognize the testimony of volunteering in Italy.  For me, this was a surprise.  I would never have thought of finding something like that!  There are many volunteers who work in this field, who are convinced.  And this is the work of parish priests, the great Italian pastors, who have fought in this field.  For me, this is a surprise, and I thank God for it.

Together with the lights, however, there are a few shadows that threaten to increase the severity of the experience lived by our brothers and sisters who are sick.  If there is a sector in which the culture of waste highlights its painful consequences, it has to be that of health.  When a sick person is not placed at the centre and considered in his or her full dignity, he or she develops an attitude that can lead him or her to speculate on the misfortunes of others.  And this is very serious!  We must be vigilant, especially when patients are elderly or have a health situation that is severely compromised, if they are suffering from serious and costly diseases or particularly difficult situations such as psychiatric patients, we must do all we can to find ways to provide necessary care.  The business model, if it is adopted in an indiscriminate way, instead of optimizing the available resources, runs the risk of producing human waste.  Optimizing resources refers to using them ethically and in solidarity with others, not in a way that penalizes those who are most fragile.

Of prime importance is the inviolable dignity of every human person from the moment of conception to the moment when the last breath is drawn (Message for the XXV World Day of the Sick 2017, published on 8 December 2016).  The guidance of policy and administrative decisions should not be based solely on money.  Policy makers are called to safeguard the rights to health that are enshrined in the Italian constitution, not the choices made by the individuals who administrate various care centres.  Increasing incidences of poor health among the poorest segments of the population, due precisely to the difficulty of accessing appropriate care, leaves no one indifferent and multiplies the efforts that are required of all people so that the rights of the weak can be properly cared for.

The history of the Italian Church has known many inns of the good Samaritans, where those who are suffering have received the oil of consolation and the wine of hope.  I think in particular of the many health institutions inspired by Christianity.  While expressing my appreciation to their representatives gathered here, I encourage you to continue the works of charity that are proper to their Foundations.  In the current context, where the response to the demand for the health concerns of those who are most fragile prove to be increasingly difficult, do not even hesitate to rethink your charitable work in order to be able to offer a sign of God's mercy to the poor who, with trust and hope, knock at the doors of your institutions.

Among the goals that Saint John Paul II provided for the World Day of the Sick, in addition to the promotion of the culture of life, there is also an invitation to involve all the dioceses, the Christian communities and the religious families in the importance of the pastoral care of health workers (Letter of Cardinal Angelini for the creation of the World Day of the Sick, 13 May 1992, paragraph 2). Many of the sick are in hospitals, but many more are at home, more and more alone.  I hope that you will come to visit them frequently, so that they do not feel excluded from their community and so that they can feel, through the closeness of those they encounter, the presence of Christ who is walking today in the midst of those who suffer in body or in spirit.  Unfortunately, the worst discrimination against those who suffer the effects of poverty - and the sick are suffering from poverty of health - is the lack of spiritual attention ... They need God and we cannot fail to offer them His friendship, His blessing, His Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and the possibility of a journey of growth and maturation in faith (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 200).

The sick are precious members of the Church.  With the grace of God and the intercession of Mary, Health of the infirm, they can become strong in their weakness (cf 2 Cor 12:10), and receive the grace to accomplish what is lacking in us through the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (cf Col 1:24); a body which, in the image of the risen Lord's body, maintains the wounds, signs of the difficult struggle, but wounds which have forever been transfigured by love (Homily for the Jubilee of the sick and the disabled, 12 June 2016).

Thank you.
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