.- Over the weekend, Pope Benedict met with members of a Vatican conference on health care ministry, to whom, he urged; scientific advances ought to serve the "integral good of the person, in constant respect for his or her dignity."
The international conference was the 20th of its kind and sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. It was held in the Vatican from the 17th to the 19th on the theme of the human genome.
The Pope told conference participants during his Saturday address that "believers well know that the Gospel is in intrinsic harmony with the values inscribed in human nature."
"The image of God", he said, "is so strongly impressed on man's soul that it difficult for the voice of conscience to be completely silenced. ... Even people who no longer recognize themselves as members of the Church, or who have lost the light of faith, remain attentive to human values and to the positive contribution the Gospel can make to individual and social good."
The Holy Father continued, saying that modern people "are capable of understanding that the dignity of man is not identified with the genes of his DNA, and does not diminish in the presence of any physical diversity or genetic defects."
"The principle of 'non discrimination' on the basis of physical or genetic factors", he added, "has entered profoundly into people's consciences and is formally expressed in the Charter of Human Rights."
He said that, "this principle has its most authentic roots in the dignity intrinsic to each human being by the fact of having been created in the image and likeness of God." An analysis of scientific data reveals the dignity of human life "from the first moment of fecundation."
The Pope pointed out how the Church "announces and presents this truth, not only with the authority of the Gospel but also with the strength deriving from reason."
He also stressed the necessity of guarding "against the risks of a science and technology that seek complete autonomy from the moral norms written into human nature."
Pope Benedict also affirmed that the need to give "fresh impulse to pastoral health care ministry" through "a renewal and a deepening of pastoral activity itself, bearing in mind the increased awareness spread by the media in society, and the higher level of education of the people to whom it is addressed."
"We cannot ignore the fact", he said, "that ever more frequently, not only legislators but citizens themselves are called to express their view on complex scientific problems. If adequate education - or indeed an adequate formation of consciences - is lacking, false values and misleading information may easily prevail in orienting public opinion."
The Pontiff concluded his address by noting the particular applications of genetic engineering, which, he said requires, "a thorough and limpid formation of consciences."
He stressed that pastoral health care ministry "needs well trained and competent professionals" because "modern scientific discoveries affect the lives of families, involving them in unforeseen and delicate choices which must be faced responsibly."