Proximity to People Suffering from Infectious Illness

On Friday, the Holy Father received participants in an international conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. The conference is being held in the Vatican from November 23-25 on the theme: "Pastoral aspects of the treatment of infectious diseases."

The Holy Father recalled how, alongside the generous service and "concrete gestures of love" shown towards people suffering infectious diseases, there are also many injustices. "How can we forget," he said, "the many people with infections illnesses forced into segregation, and sometimes marked by a humiliating stigma? The seriousness of these lamentable situations is highlighted by the disparity of social and economic conditions between the North and South of the world. Such situations must be answered with concrete initiatives that favor proximity to the sick, enliven the evangelization of culture, and inspire the social and economic policies of governments."

On the subject of closeness to the sick, Benedict XVI mentioned "the rich tradition of the Catholic Church," which, he said, "must be kept alive by exercising charity towards the suffering, so as to ensure the enduring visibility of values inspired by true humanity and by the Gospel: the dignity of the individual, mercy, and the identification of the sick with Christ. All initiatives are inadequate if they do not make love for man perceptible, a love nourished in the meeting with Christ.

"This irreplaceable proximity to the sick," he added, "must be united to the evangelization of the cultural environment in which we live." In this context he mentioned "attitudes of indifference or even of exclusion and rejection," which are sometimes shown towards the sick in societies fixated with well- being. "Such an attitude is also favored by the image projected by the media of men and women prevalently concerned with physical beauty, health and biological vitality. This is a dangerous cultural tendency that encourages people to focus on self, to close themselves in their own little world, and to avoid committing themselves to serving those in need."

The Holy Father emphasized the necessity "for a form of pastoral care capable of helping the sick bear their suffering, helping them transform their condition into an occasion of grace for themselves and others, through living participation in the mystery of Christ."

Finally, Benedict XVI underlined the importance of "collaborating with various public institutions in order to ensure that social justice is practiced in a delicate field such as that of the care and assistance of people suffering infectious illness." In this context, he mentioned "the equal distribution of resources for research and therapy, as well as the promotion of living conditions that can prevent the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases."

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