1. I am happy to be addressing all of you, very dear Brothers and Sisters, during this International Conference, which has now become a traditional appointment each year bringing together so many generous people marked by enthusiasm and fidelity who are involved in the world of health policy and care.
This year, in addition, we are recalling a special anniversary: ten years have in fact passed since the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers was instituted. The success of the Conferences held until now is tangible proof of the fruits ripened through the tireless and fervent activity conducted by this Council, whose aim is to "disseminate, explain, and defend the teachings of the Church in the field of health and foster their introduction into the practice of health care" (Apostolic Letter, Dolentium Hominum, no. 6).
I affectionately greet Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini and thank him for the kind words with which he has conveyed the sentiments of all those present. I reiterate my deepest appreciation of those responsible for the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, who, with assiduous and constant dedication have promoted and organized this meeting. I also respectfully address the distinguished scientists, researchers, scholars, and experts on problems in medicine, the biomedical sciences, and morals who have offered this encounter for study and reflection the valuable contribution of their competence and experience. Finally, I extend my cordial welcome to all present.
In your persons I see and greet all the health workers who, everywhere in the world, as servants and guardians of life, witness to the Church's presence alongside sick and suffering people.
2. This year you have chosen to conduct your reflection in the light of the Gospel exhortation: "Vade et Fac Tu Similiter: From Hippocrates to the Good Samaritan." In this twofold allusion the whole history of medicine may be well summarized. As, indeed, Pope Pius XII, of venerable memory, recalled, "The writings of Hippocrates, beyond all doubt, contain one of the noblest expressions of professional conscience, which particularly imposes respect for life and dedication to the sick" (Address to Those Attending the Fourteenth International Congress on the History of Medicine, September 17, 1954: Discorsi e Radiomessaggi XIV [1953-1954], 148). The Gospel page on the Good Samaritan enriches the Hippocratic heritage with the transcendent vision of human life, which is a gift of God and is called to share in eternal communion with Him
With rigorous attention to the serious and urgent problems challenging medical research and science in our time, during the sessions held in these days you have journeyed anew along the road traveled by health care throughout history, identifying in the encounter between Hippocratic humanism and Christian humanism a decisive factor for progress towards a civilization increasingly worthy of this name. Furthermore, the scientific contributions presented by scholars and experts from all over the world have demonstrated that, in attention to those suffering and commitment to quality of life worthy of the person, an anthropological vision is shaped in which it is possible for people of different cultures to find a point of encounter. This is confirmed by the personal and social experiences of so many "Good Samaritans" of modern times, among whom you have appropriately wished to recall people such as Henry Dunant, Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Janusz Korczak, Ildebrando Gregori, Raoul Follereau, and Marcello Candia. "Whoever embarks on the little boat of defense of life," Albert Schweitzer wrote, "is not a shipwrecked person cast adrift, but a bold traveler who knows where to go and firmly holds the rudder in the right direction" (La civilisation et l'éthique, 63-64).
3. From Hippocrates to the Good Samaritan, from conscience guided by reason to reason enlightened by faith, the announcement of the Gospel of life must be single; indeed, its advancement and defense "are not the monopoly of anyone, but the responsibility of all" (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, no. 91). And it is certainly a providential sign of the times that faith in Christ's message is today called to support and strengthen the rational foundation for the common duty of serving life in all phases of human existence. It is, indeed, a task which is at once human and Christian, in such a way that "only unified cooperation among those believing in the value of life can avert a defeat for civilization with unforeseeable consequences" (ibid.)
The Good Samaritan of the Gospel parable challenges every human conscience aspiring to truth and attentive to the future destiny of mankind. The long road traveled by health care, however, could not be accounted for if it had some purpose other than the safeguarding and recovery of health; in reality, health care, because it is rooted in respect for life and for the dignity of the human person, is also a school for giving value to suffering and the service it calls for. Therefore, the parable of the Good Samaritan pertains to both the Gospel of life and the Gospel of suffering: "And here we touch one of the key points of all Christian anthropology. Man cannot find himself fully except through a sincere gift of himself. The Good Samaritan is the man capable of precisely such a gift of himself" (Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, no. 28).
For these reasons I am happy to express to those responsible for the Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers my deep satisfaction over their having drafted and published the first Charter for Health Care Workers, whose indications, open to contributions by all men of good will, represent a happy alliance between Hippocratic ethics and Christian morals. It is, in fact, a synthesis through which "reflection and dialogue - among believers and nonbelievers and also among the believers of different religions - on ethical problems, including fundamental ones regarding man's life, are fostered" (Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, no. 27).
4. The unified and constructive path of science and faith desired by the Second Vatican Council (cf. Message to Men of Science, December 8, 1965) tends to affirm basic human rights centering on the advancement and defense of life and its dignity. Faith stimulates, encourages, and supports this convergence, which has revealed itself to be favorable to the achievements of reason, for there is nothing genuinely human which is not echoed in the heart of Christians.
The field of health policy and care, in the varied spheres of health education, prevention, diagnosis, therapy, and rehabilitation, offers numberless proofs of the concrete possibility of an association between reason and faith, to construct, in freedom and full respect for the human person, the civilization of life, which, to be truly such, must also be a civilization of love.
5. In the building of such a civilization, the Good Samaritan, in whom the love of the Son of God is mirrored, is a model for the duties and tasks of health care workers. This model reaffirms, dearest Brothers and Sisters engaged in health care and pastoral attention to the sick, that your service is first of all a mission, rather than a profession, sustained by a growing awareness of solidarity existing among human beings. This awareness is strengthened and encouraged by faith, to which I exhort you to offer generous witness, as heralds of trust and hope in man, called by God to fulfill himself in self-giving.
With these wishes, for all of you and your service to the sick I invoke the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin, to whom I entrust the plea for salvation and comfort arising from suffering humanity. May Mary, the Mother of the Divine Samaritan of souls and bodies, accompany all your meritorious activities, impressing upon them the maternal characteristics of loving receptiveness and inexhaustible generosity. May you also be accompanied by my Apostolic Blessing, which I cordially bestow upon all of you present here, upon your associates, and upon those you assist in your daily work.