Saturday, March 3, 2018

Speaking with nurses

At 11:45am today (5:45am EST), in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience the members of the Italian National Federation of Professional Nursing Orders (IPASVI).

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
to the Italian National Federation of Nursing Orders

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

I am happy to meet you and, first of all, I want to express my thanks and my esteem for the very precious work that you do for the sake of so many people and for the good of all of society.  Thank you, thank you very much!

I extend my cordial greetings to the President and to all members of the National Federation of Nursing Orders who you represent here today.  Although it comes from a long tradition, this Federation is referred to as newborn and is now taking its first steps.  Your constitution, which has been confirmed only a few days ago by the Italian Parliament, highlights the value of nursing professions and guarantees greater enhancement of your profession.  With almost 450,000 members, you make up the largest professional order in Italy, and you provide a point of reference also for other categories of professionals.  The common path that you are travelling allows you not only to have a united voice and greater contractual strength, but above all to share the values and motives that are the foundations of your work.

The role of nurses in assisting patients is truly indispensable.  Unlike anyone else, the nurse has a direct and continual relationship with patients, taking care of them every day, listening to their needs and entering into contact with their very bodies, as you care for them.  This is something peculiar to your approach to caring for others, something that is brought about by your actions, caring for the needs of the person with the typical attention that patients have come to recognize in you, and representing a fundamental part of the process of caring for those who are in need of healing.

The international ethical code for nurses, which also inspires the Italian code of ethics, identifies four fundamental tasks of your profession: to promote health, to prevent illness, to retore health and to alleviate suffering (Introduction).  These are complex and multiple functions which affect every area of care, and which are carried out in collaboration with other professionals in the sector.  The curative, preventative, restorative and palliative character of your actions require a high level of professionalism, which requires specialization and updating, due in part to the evolution of technology and care.

However, this professionalism is not only demonstrated in the technical sphere, but also and perhaps even more in the sphere of human relations.  Being in contact with doctors and with family members, as well as with the sick, you become the crossroads of thousands of relationships within hospitals, in places where others are cared for and in homes where people require attention, competence and comfort.  It is precisely in this synthesis of technical ability and human sensitivity that you demonstrate the fullness of your value and the precious gift of your work.

As you take care of women and men, children and the elderly, in every phase of their lives, from birth to death, you are committed to continual listening, aimed at understanding the needs of each particular patient, in the stage that person is currently living.  In fact, facing the realities of each situation, it is never enough to follow protocol, but this requires continual - even tiring! - strength of discernment and attention to individual people.  All this makes your profession a true and real mission, and it makes you experts in humanity, calling you to perform an irreplaceable task of humanizing a distracted society, which too often leaves the weak on the margins, too often focusing only on those who have worth or responding to criteria of efficiency or earnings.

The sensitivity that you acquire every day by being in contact with patients makes you promotors of the life and dignity of persons.  You are able to recognize the proper limits of technology, which should never become an absolute and overshadow the importance of human dignity.  You are also attentive to the desire, sometimes unexpressed, of spirituality and of religious assistance, which for many patients represents an essential element of the sense and serenity of life, something that is even more urgent in cases of fragility due to illness.

For the Church, the sick are people in whom Jesus is especially present; he identifies himself through them when he says: I was sick and you came to visit me (Mt 25:36).  Throughout his ministry, Jesus was always close to the sick, he has come close to them with love and he has healed many of them.  Meeting the leper who asked him to heal him, he reached out his hand and touched him (cf Mt 8:2-3).  We must not overlook the importance of this simple gesture: the mosaic law prohibited all people from touching lepers and forbade lepers from approaching inhabited places.  However, Jesus went to the heart of the law, which finds its explanation in the love of our neighbour, and touched the leper, reducing the distance between them, so that he is no longer separated from the community of mankind, and we can perceive, through a simple gesture, the closeness of God himself.  Therefore the healing that Jesus imparts was not only physical, but it also reached that man's heart, since not only was his leprosy healed, but also he felt loved.  Let us never forget the medicine of hugs: it is very important!  A hug, a smile, is filled with significance for those who are sick.  This is just a gesture, but it raises people up, they feel as though they are not alone, they feel that their healing is taking place, they feel like people - not like numbers.  Don't forget this.

Being present to those who are sick and exercising your profession, you are touching the sick and, more than everyone else, you are caring for their bodies.  When you do, remember how Jesus touched the leper: he was not distracted, indifferent or annoyed but attentive and loving, making the sick feel respected and cared for.  In doing so, the contact that is established with patients communicates to them a vibration of the closeness of God the Father, his tenderness for every one of his children.  This is true tenderness: tenderness is the key to understanding the sick person.  It is not possible to understand the sick if we are hard of heart.  Tenderness is the key to understanding it, and it is also a precious medicine for healing.  Tenderness passes through the heart and on to the hands, it passes through a touch of their wounds full of respect and love.

Many years ago, a religious man told me that the most touching phrase he had ever heard in his life was a sick person who he was helping during the terminal phase of an illness.  I want to thank you, Father - he said - you have always told me about God, even though you did not speak his name: this is tenderness.  This is the greatness of love that we offer to others, who carry the love of God hidden within them, even if they are not thinking such thoughts.

Never tire of being close to people with this human and fraternal sensitivity, always finding the motivation and the drive to carry out your task.  Be careful though, not to give so much as to burn out, such as happens if you are involved with patients to the point of becoming absorbed, living in the first person, everything that happens to them.  You have a tiring job: you are exposed to many risks and excessive involvement, combined with the difficulty of your various tasks and managing your shifts which can cause you to lose your freshness and the serenity that are needed for you to do your job.  Be careful!  Another element that makes your profession difficult and sometimes unsupportable is the lack of personnel, which does not help with the services that need to be offered, and which a wise administration cannot in any way intend to be a source of savings.

Aware of the demanding task that you carry out, I take this opportunity to urge the patients themselves to never take for granted that which they receive from you.  You too, sick persons, must be attentive to the humanity of the nurses who are helping you.  I ask you, but I cannot demand of you, not only to expect smiles but also to offer then to those who are dedicated to you.  In this regard, an elderly lady once told me that, when she goes to the hospital for the care that she often needs, she is so grateful to the doctors and the nurses for the work that they are doing, that she makes a point of dressing up and making herself beautiful in order to also give something back to them.  Therefore, no one should take for granted the things that the nurses do for him or for her, but everyone should contribute to nurturing a sense of respect and gratitude that is due to one another.  And with your permission, I would like to pay homage to one nurse in particular who saved my life.  She was a nursing Sister: an Italian nun, a Dominican who was sent to Greece as a very educated teacher ... But still she arrived in Argentina as a nurse.  When I (who was 20 years old) was at the point of death, she was the one who spoke to the doctors, even discussing with them: No, this is wrong, you have to do more.  And thanks to her, I survived.  I am very grateful to her!  I want to thank her.  And I want to name her here, in front of all of you: Sister Cornelia Caraglio.  A good woman, very courageous, to the point of speaking out for her patients even with the doctors.  She was humble, but sure of herself.  And so many lives, so many lives were saved because of her!  She spent the entire day there ans she saw things happen to the sick.  Thank you for all of this!

I greet you all, and I express my wish that your Congress, which will take place in the coming days, will be a fruitful occasion for reflection, discussion and sharing.  I invoke upon all of you the Lord's blessings, and please, I ask you to pray for me.

And now - in silence, since you are all from various religious confessions - in silence, let us pray to God, who is Father of us all, and ask him to bless us.

May the Lord bless all of you, and the sick people you care for.

Thank you!

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