PONTIFICAL COMMISSION FOR THE APOSTOLATE
OF HEALTH CARE WORKERS
1. The deep interest which the Church has always demonstrated for the world
of the suffering is well known. In this for that matter, she has done nothing
more than follow the very eloquent example of her Founder and Master. In the
Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris of 11 February 1984, I emphasized
that ''in his messianic activity in the midst of Israel, Christ drew
increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. 'He went about
doing good', and his actions concerned primarily those who were suffering and
seeking help" (no. 16).
In fact, over the course of the centuries the Church has felt strongly that
service to the sick and suffering is an integral part of her mission, and not
only has she encouraged among Christians the blossoming of various works of
mercy, but she has also established many religious institutions within her with
the specific aim to fostering, organizing, improving and increasing help to the
sick Missionaries, on their part, in carrying out the work of evangelization
have constantly combined the preaching of the Good News with the help and care
of the sick.
2. In her approach to the sick and to the mystery of suffering, the Church
is guided a precise concept of the human person and of his destiny in God's
plan. She holds that medicine and therapeutic cures be directed not only to the
good and the health of the body, but to the person as such who, in his body, is
stricken by evil. In fact, illness and suffering are not experiences which
concern only man's physical substance, but man in his entirety and in his
somatic-spiritual unity. For that matter, it is known how often the illness
which is manifested in the body has its origins and its true cause in the
recesses of' the human psyche.
Illness and suffering are phenomena which, if examined in depth, always pose
questions which go beyond medicine itself to touch the essence of the human
condition in this world (cf Gaudium et
Spes, no. 10). 'Therefore, it is easy to understand the importance, in the
social-health care services of the presence not only of pastors of souls, but
also of workers who are led by an integrally human view of illness and who as a
result are able to effect a fully human approach to the sick parson who is suffering. For the Christian,
Christ's redemption and his salvific grace reach the whole man in his human
condition and therefore reach also illness, suffering and death.
3. In civil society the social-health care services sector has undergone an
important and significant evolution in recent years. On the one hand, access to
assistance and health care, recognized as a right of the citizen, has become
generalized, consequently determining the broadening of the structures and of
the various health care services. On the other hand, in order to meet these
requirements, nations have established appropriate ministries, passed ad hoc
legislation and adopted policies with specific health care aims. The United
Nations, for its part, has initiated the World Health Organization
This vast and complex sector directly concerns the good of the human person
and of society. Precisely for this reason it also poses delicate and inevitable
questions which involve not only the social and organizational aspect, but also
the exquisitely ethical and religious one, since basic "human" events, such as
suffering, illness and death, are involved, with the related questions about the
role of medicine and the mission of the doctor with regard to the sick person.
The new frontiers, then, opened by the progress of science and its
possible technical and therapeutic applications, touch the most delicate spheres
of life at its very sources and in its most profound meaning.
4. For the Church's part, important above all seems to be the work of the
more organic investigation of the increasingly complex problems which the health
care workers must face in the context of a greater commitment to collaboration
among groups and corresponding activities. Today there are many organisms which
directly engage Christians in the health care sector: over and above the
religious congregations and institutions, with their social health care
structures, there are organizations of Catholic doctors, associations of
paramedics, nurses, pharmacists, volunteer workers, diocesan and interdiocesan,
national and international organisms which have sprung up to pursue the problems
of medicine and health. A better coordination of all these organisms is
required. In my discourse to Catholic doctors on 3 October 1982, 1 emphasized
this neck: ''In order to do this, individual action is not sufficient.
Collective, intelligent, well-planned, constant and generous work is required,
and not only within the individual countries, but also on an international
scale. Coordination on a world-wide level would, in fact, allow a better
proclamation and a more effective defense of your faith, of your culture, of
your Christian commitment in scientific research and in your profession"
(Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo 11, V, 3  p. 674; L'Osservatore
Romano in English, 25 October).
5. In the first place, this coordination must be understood to promote and
spread an ever better ethical-religious formation of Christian health care
workers in the world, keeping in mind the different situations and specific
problems which they must face in carrying out their profession. It will be
addressed, then, to better sustain, promote and intensify the necessary
activities of study, investigation and proposals in relation to the
aforementioned specific problems of health care service in the context of the
Christian view of man's true good.
In this field today there have arisen delicate and grave problems of an
ethical nature, concerning which the Church and Christians must courageously and
lucidly intervene to safeguard essential values and rights connected with the
dignity and the supreme destiny of the human person.
6. In the light of these considerations, and supported by the opinion of
experts, priests, religious and laity, I have arranged to constitute a Pontifical
Commission for the Apostolate of Health Care Workers, which will serve as
the coordinating organism for all the Catholic institutions, religious and
lay, committed to the apostolate of the sick. It will be connected with the
Pontifical Council for the Laity, of which it will be an organic part, although
maintaining its own organizational and operational individuality.
The duties of the Commission will be the following:
—to stimulate and foster the work of formation, study and action carried out
by the various intentional Catholic organizations, as well as by
other groups, associations and organizations which, on various levels and in
various ways, operate in this sector;
to coordinate the activities carried out by the various departments of
the Roman Curia in relation to the health care world and its problems;
to spread, explain and defend the Church's teachings on the subject of
health care, and to encourage their penetration into health care practices;
—to maintain contacts with the local Churches and, in particular,
with the Episcopal commissions for the health care world;
to follow carefully and to study organizational orientations and
concrete initiatives of health care policies on both the international and the
national levels, with the purpose of discerning their relevance and implications
for the Church's apostolate.
The Pontifical Commission will be presided over by the Cardinal President of
the Pontifical Council for the Laity and will be managed by a coordination group
headed by a Pro-President (Archbishop) and a Secretary (not a bishop).
It is the President's task to direct the Plenary Assemblies of the Members
and Consultors. In addition, the President will be informed in advance of
decisions of major importance and will be kept up to date on the ordinary
activity of the Commission.
It will be the Pro-President's task to promote, manage, preside over and
coordinate the organizational and operational activities of the Pontifical
The Members and Consultors, appointed by me, will represent:
a) some departments and organisms of the Roman Curia (Secretariat of State;
Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the Eastern Churches, for
Religious and the Secular Institutes, for the Evangelization of Peoples, and for
Catholic Education; the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for
the Family the Pontifical Academy of Sciences);
b) the Episcopate (Episcopal Commissions for the health care world);
c) religious orders engaged in hospital work;
d) the laity (representatives of the international Catholic organizations
and other groups and associations which operate in the health care field and in
the world of suffering) .
In fulfilling its mission, the Pontifical Commission may seek the
collaboration of experts and establish ad hoc working groups on specific
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's on February 11, 1985, the seventh year of