Tribute to Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, STD, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and for Health Pastoral Care

We have recently learned of the death of Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, STD, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and for Health Pastoral Care, on July 13, 2016. He was a compassionate and prominent figure in advocating for the suffering. He worked tirelessly to spread a message of faith and hope, as well as teaching the importance of healthcare professionals rendering care from the standpoint of their vocation, incorporating faith with tender care of the sick, injured, and dying.

Archbishop Zimowski was a tremendous advocate for the Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, and was the keynote speaker at our 7th annual Medicine, Bioethics and Spirituality conference at Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2011. He touched our hearts and the hearts of all that attended the conference, and gave a powerful address that illustrated the importance of healthcare professionals providing spiritual closeness to their patients and sharing their suffering, in addition to providing expert medical care. His gentleness was evident, and his deep commitment to the sick and those who care for them offered encouragement to the Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy.

He was also invited to be the keynote speaker at our 11th annual conference in 2015, but due to complications from his pancreatic cancer, he could not attend. Still, he provided two speeches. I would like to quote a passage from one of his speeches that describes his peace of heart, even while he was suffering a serious illness, and demonstrates how he teaches us to trust in God’s infinite mercy:

Address by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski
President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers

The Revision and Updating of the Charter for Health Care Workers

Most Rev. Robert MacManus, Bishop of Worcester
All you Catholic members of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy,

I thank you for the invitation to participate in the 11th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics and Spirituality Conference. I had hoped to be with you during these days of reflection, discussion, and sharing, as we walk together the path of our ongoing human and spiritual formation. Unfortunately, due to serious health problems, I could not be with you physically. Nevertheless as I had promised to Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, and his team, I have tried to send to you some thoughts for reflection.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for the prayers you offered for my recovery, I can assure you that during this difficult time of my illness, I have been upheld by the strong hand of God and supported greatly by the many prayers offered for my healing.

It is true indeed that life is a gift from God entrusted to us as stewards. (CCC, n. 2280) When we are in good health, we may sometimes get the false impression that we are in control of everything, to the extent of even thinking that we are the absolute masters of our own lives. However, it takes an experience like that of serious illness, to realize how much we depend on others, above all as the psalmist affirms that our life is in the hands of God (Ps 31:14b-15a). This is a truth that is often obscured or challenged in contemporary society by the culture of death. Yes it is true that in the contemporary society where secularization seems to have taken the upper hand, one truly needs courage to stand on their feet and witness to the Gospel values in the medical profession. All of you in your profession must have experienced already that we live and work in an environment where there is a strong cultural war between the culture of life and the culture of death. It is a challenge but at the same time it is an occasion, a call to witness.

On one of his visits to the United States, Archbishop Zimowski requested assistance in publishing the English edition of his book of theological reflections, On the Way of the Suffering Person: God Has Visited His People. Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy took over the project, and it was published by the Marian Fathers.

Here is an excerpt from the “Foreword to the English Edition” by the editor Very Rev. Kazimierz Chawlek, MIC, provincial superior of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in the U.S. and Argentina:

In his book, On the Way of the Suffering Person: God Has Visited His People, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and for Health Pastoral Care, takes us on a journey of deep reflection on human suffering and illness. It is a reflection rooted in Sacred Scripture and in the pastoral care tradition of the Catholic Church.

But this book of conferences and addresses arranged thematically also offers insights into human suffering and illness from the perspective of medical and social responses, treatments and interventions, which the President of the Pontifical Council examines in the light of bioethics and medical ethics.

On the Way of the Suffering Person: God Has Visited His People is a book both informative and inspiring. It gives the medical profession and its ministry of healing a dimension of Christ’s mission to heal and to console. It helps the medical professionals understand more deeply their special vocation and great responsibility for the good of human society. It makes them also realize the great dignity of every human person and his or her incalculable worth, no matter how young or how old, which the illness can never take away or diminish.

Archbishop Zimowski’s writings incorporate broad theological and pastoral insights of the recent papacies, especially that of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as he served for over eighteen years in the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Summaries and citations of these extraordinary teachers of faith and pastoral care greatly enrich this book.

Archbishop Zimowski shares how Pope Benedict emphasizes that no one in our society should feel alone or abandoned, particularly those who suffer and are in need, such as the sick. We need to be with them in their suffering, so it is a “shared suffering”:

A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society … to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation,” expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity.

We join with the Holy Father in offering our condolences. From the Holy See Press Office:

Vatican City, 13 July 2016 — Pope Francis has sent a telegram of condolences to Msgr. Jean-Marie Mate Musivi Mupendawatu, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Workers following the death today of Bishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the same dicastery, at the age of 67 “after a long and painful illness,” writes the Pope, “lived in a spirit of faith and Christian testimony.”

“I wish to express my spiritual participation in mourning with the dicastery, and while I recall his generous ministry, first as pastor of the diocese of Radom and then in the service of the Holy See, I raise fervent prayers to the Lord for the his soul, entrusting him to the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. With these sentiments I invoke for the departed collaborator the eternal reward promised to faithful servants of the Gospel, and I gladly impart to you, to the staff and collaborators of the Pontifical Council, and to the relatives of the dear prelate, the comfort of my apostolic blessing.”

We are thankful for the privilege of knowing Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski and will continue to offer our prayers from our hearts for his union with Jesus and Mary. He was truly a man of God that showed us by his example how to have a spiritual life in our vocation as healthcare professionals, extending that spirituality of mercy and tenderness to our patients.

Marie Romagnano, RN, BSN, CRC,CCM
Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy

Let us pray:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


On the Way of the Suffering Person


Bringing together various speeches, articles, and interviews by the late Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, this b… Read more

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Photo: Marie Romagnano