Pope Francis poses with staff as he visits the neonatal unit at San Giovanni Hospital in Rome. Photo taken on Sep 2016. Image via: todayscatholic.org

At a meeting of thousands of Italian nurses, Pope Francis paid tribute to a courageous nurse who saved his life by standing up to his doctors, and also praised nurses as “experts in humanity”.

Pope Francis was addressing a meeting, on March 3, of around 6,500 members of the Federation of Colleges of Professional Nurses, Health Care Assistants and Child Minders in Italy. He told that when he was a young man of 20, and on the verge of death, a nurse argued with the doctors about his treatment saying “No this is not working. You must give more”. With the antibiotics and surgery to remove part of his lung, he survived. Pope Francis used the occasion to thank the nurse – Sister Cornelia Caraglio, a Dominican nun from Italy – by name.

While reminding the nurses of their four basic functions of promoting health, preventing illness, restoring health and alleviating suffering, he pointed out that their professionalism manifests especially in the field of human relationships. “The sensitivity you acquire by being in contact with patients all day,” he said, “makes you promoters of the life and dignity of persons.” With nurses’ direct and continuous interaction with their patients on a daily basis, they were experts in humanity, and this role was irreplaceable in a society where weaker people are often left on the margins.

“The sensitivity you acquire by being in contact with patients all day makes you promoters of the life and dignity of persons.”

Nurses were also at the crossroads of the many relationships involving patients, their families, doctors and other staff. Because they spent more time with patients and family members than any of the other staff, they were also the ones who usually had more information on factors that determine how best to care for the patient as an individual.

Pope Francis also reminded nurses not to forget what small gestures can mean to the patient. He used the example of Jesus reaching out and touching the leper, which had been forbidden under Mosaic law, to show the love and closeness of God. “A caress, a smile, is full of meaning for one who is sick. It is a simple gesture, but encouraging, he or she feels accompanied, feels closer to being healed, feels like a person, not a number,” he said.

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