On Sunday, 20 December, 1981, the holy Father paid a visit to the new Regina Margherita Hospital in Trastevere. In the course of the visit he delivered the following address:

Beloved Brothers and Sisters!

1. On my visit to the Regina Margherita Hospital, I wish in the first place to extend my cordial, respectful greeting to the directors, doctors personnel and sisters, and to all who are here for this meeting.  To all of you I express my esteem and consideration for the irreplaceable work of real human advancement and of admirable social value which you carry out in the exercise of you duty, or rather, of your mission.

But my particularly affectionate thought cannot but be directed to the dear patients in this institute, stricken by illness. To you who are suffering in body and in spirit there go my good wishes, my understanding, and my solidarity, which I intend to manifest also to your relatives here present, who are deeply concerned and anxious about your health.

I come to this hospital complex which was restructured and inaugurated in 1970.  However, going back in the history of Rome, it is connected with the Monastery of San Cosimato, which from the 10th century was a centre of fervent religious life and also of generous charitable  undertakings, particularly in favour of the sick and pilgrims, a concrete sign of that continuous active and disinterested solicitude that the Church has always shown for the poor, the humble, children and the sick.

Suffering and hope

2. This hospital – like all the hospitals of the world – is a place of suffering and hope.  As we enter the wards, the rooms, we dramatically experience the weakness, the frailty of our human nature, so exposed to a thousand dangers and threats, which can at any moment break its harmonious balance, causing disease and weakening our strength.  The mystery of physical pain, which torments man’s spirit in one of the most agonizing questions, appears here with all its intense impact.  In suffering man feels his loneliness become more acute, while his physical strength fails him; the need of invoking others – relatives, friends, doctors – to give him relief and comfort, the cry of supplication to God, who alone can give complete help and also explain the meaning of so much suffering.

But this place is also a place of hope: the hope of the sick themselves, who feel that the beauty of life is insuppressible: the hope of their relatives and friends, who share with them the confident expectation of an improvement which will announce recovery in the near future.

While I express my wish that this hope will soon come true, I wish to say to the brothers and sisters stricken by sickness, who are listening to me at this moment: I have come to bear witness to the love that Christ, the Church and the Pope have for you.  Your suffering presence is not useless, far less absurd, Christ the Lord, who in the Incarnation assumed, along with our human nature, also pain and death, calls all men and especially you who are weak and suffering, to collaborate with him for the salvation of the world.  This mysterious vocation of yours to suffering is a vocation to love for God the Father of Mercy, and for other brothers and sisters.  Only Christ’s cross can illuminate our weak intelligence and give it a glimpse of the deep meaning of the human and Christian fruitfulness of suffering.

In defence of health and human life

3. A place of suffering which is accompanied by hope, a hospital is also a place in which an effort if made to make this hope become a reality as soon as possible.  Medical activity by its very nature is directed to defending life and improving the health of any human being in difficulty.  The very ancient Hippocratic Oath already committed physicians to do so.  In a central passage,  it ran “I will have recourse to diet  for the benefit of my patients according to my capacities and judgement, not for their danger and harm.  And I will not give a deadly potion nor will I take a similar initiative, whoever may ask me, in the same way I will not give any woman a pessary for abortive purposes”.

Twenty-four centuries later, the “Geneva Declaration” approved in 1948 by the World Association of Doctors, proposes substantially identical concepts. In it the one who assumes practice of the medical profession promises “I solemnly undertake to dedicate my life to the service of humanity … I will practice my profession with consciousness and dignity. The health of my patient will be my first concern.  I will maintain the utmost respect for human life right from the moment of conception”.

It is precisely this unreserved dedication to the defence of health and human life that is the origin of the special consideration universally attributed by citizens to doctors and auxiliary personnel: while respecting all other work, everyone willingly recognizes the social pre-eminence of a profession which has as its aim the protection of a good which is the foundation and premise of all other goods that can be enjoyed here below.

And it is Holy Scripture itself that confirms this appreciation, recommending “Honour the physician with the honour due him, according to your need of him” (Sir.  38:1), and commenting on this precept, it observes: “The skill of the physician lifts up his head, and in the presence of great men he is admired” (ib. v. 3).

Certainly, for the believer the first and main source of hope, in the case of illness, remains the help of the Lord, whose omnipotence can triumph over any disease.  For this reason the page of the Bible quoted urges the sick to pray, to be purified and to offer propitiating sacrifices (cf ib. vv. 9-11).  That does not  exclude, however, the opportuneness of simultaneous recourse to the aids of the medical art, whose beneficial function is also envisaged in the plans of Divine Providence. For this reason, after the admonitions just recalled, Scripture does not fail to recommend: “Give the physician his place for the Lord created him, let him not leave you, for there is need of him” (ib. v. 12).

Precious human life

It is only right, therefore, that your profession, beloved doctors and members of the paramedical and auxiliary personnel, should be held in high consideration. It is only right, because the good that it intends to protect, the good of human life, is a highly precious one.

Life is the time that is granted to us to express concretely the potential riches which each of us bears and to make our contribution to the common progress of mankind.  Life is the time that is given to us to embody in ourselves and in history the values of love, goodness, joy, justice and peace, to which the human heart aspires.

In the light of faith, furthermore, life is the time of grace (kairos), in which God puts the human being to the test, trying his heart and his mind, by the daily commitment of believing, hoping and loving.  A time of grace, in which each one is called to enrich himself – by giving himself – with values that last for eternity, which will be marked forever by the measure of love which we have succeeded in expressing here below.

Life, therefore, is a precious good in its entirety and in every part of it.  Those who spend their energies to defend it, to restore its normal efficiency, to promote its full development, acquire the right to the gratitude of every fellow creature of theirs.  On the contrary, those who dare to attack it in any way stain themselves with a serious crime and incur the severe condemnation of that judge against which there is no appeal:  conscience, the mirror of God.

The hope that I spontaneously express on the occasion of this significant meeting is that, also today, anyone who chooses to put himself in the service of human life will feel vibrating in him pride in belonging to a profession whose members, throughout the centuries, have offered luminous testimonies of generous humanitarianism, teaching, in some cases, the supreme heroism of self-sacrifice to save their brother.

May the thought of Christmas, which we are preparing to celebrate, strengthen these wishes with the attraction that springs from the smile of a new-born Child in his mother’s arms.  The inspiring scene, which we will contemplate represented in the crib, speaks to us all of a life that has just been born, which the warmth and solicitude of loving hearts (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) defend from the dangers of a difficult situation.

May this message bring forth echoes of generous response in the hearts of Christians today, so that every human life may find around it, not indifference or rejection, but sympathy, welcome, interest and help. This is my cordial wish, which I accompany with the Apostolic Blessing, imploring  so much  serenity for you and for your dear ones.

John Paul II