In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI's doctor reflected on his more than 30 years as a doctor to the Popes. In various capacities, he served John Paul II and continues to serve Benedict XVI, a responsibility which at least one person foresaw he would hold.
Mario Ponzi of L'Osservatore Romano (LOR) interviewed Dr. Patrizio Polisca, director of the Vatican's health services department and the Pope's personal physician, for an article to be released on Saturday. Dr. Polisca has been the head papal physician since June 2009 and was just named the director of the Vatican's internal health department last month.
The Italian from modest beginnings recalled when he began working as a doctor in Rome in the 1970s, particularly his time with a community of Spanish religious sisters. The mother superior of the order, Mother Caridad, told him repeatedly at the time that he would one day become the Pope's personal doctor.
In 1987, that is exactly what happened as he was chosen by the papal physician at the time, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, to work in the summer rotation at Castel Gandolfo. Before long, he found himself introduced to John Paul II, an encounter which gave him goosebumps as he recalled Mother Caridad's words.
Then, in 1994, Dr. Polisca was invited to become a health officer in the Vatican's medical corps, a placement that made him "very happy," considering he never thought that he would be in that position. "I never had specific career goals," he observed, "and all that happened to me appeared to follow a precise design. Certainly not mine, although it was beautiful and it filled me with joy and new enthusiasm."
He started joining in on the longer papal trips at the invitation of Dr. Buzzonetti. He said that he still remembers every moment of the first trip he took with Pope John Paul II, the 1997 trip to Cuba. The most impressive aspect of the experience, he told LOR, was "the magnetism (the Pope) exercised over the crowds."
Of all the memories from trips, though, he said that Mass at the Cenacle during the papal visit to the Holy Land in 2000 was "unforgettable."
He went on to recount other important moments to LOR, particularly how he cared for Pope John Paul II in his final days and was on guard during the conclave that would elect Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope.
When he was named the Pope's physician in 2009, he once again was reminded of Mother Caridad's words.
These days, the physician explained that he keeps up-to-date with his profession practicing as a heart surgeon at the University Hospital of Tor Vergata in Rome and by studying when he can, especially on weekends.
Reflecting on the weight of his position, he said that he couldn't imagine his life "without the responsibility to the Pope and the Church. But, I live it as a joy, which I share with my family."