While meeting with participants from the 23rd International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, the Holy Father underscored that sick children, including the unborn, must be treated with dignity for their authentic good. The conference, held at the Vatican November 13 – 15, met to discuss the theme “Pastoral Care in the Treatment of Sick Children.”
The Holy Father began by praising the conference for shedding light on the difficult conditions experienced by “large numbers of children in vast regions of the earth” despite great strides in medicine.
After saying that four million newborn infants die each year, the Pope called on conference participants to work to “prevent the emergence of many illnesses once typical of childhood and, overall, to favor the growth, development and maintenance of a correct state of health for all children.”
This must be done through a “proper balance between the continuation and abandonment of treatment so as to ensure adequate care for the young patients without giving way to the temptation of experimentalism,” the Pope cautioned.
He then reminded participants that the focus of all medical activity “must always be the authentic good of the child, considered in his or her dignity as a human being with full rights.
“Children must, then, always be cared for with love, to help them face suffering and sickness, even before birth, in a way appropriate to their situation.”
Along with addressing the physical needs of sick children, Pope Benedict also spoke about the need to address their emotional needs. It is essential to keep “in mind the emotional impact of the sickness the child must undergo, and of the treatment, which at times can be particularly invasive, it is important to ensure constant communication with the relatives,” he said.
"The sick, and especially children, have a particular understanding of the language of tenderness and love as expressed though sensitive, patient and generous service,” the Holy Father said as he reminded Christians that they should exhibit the same love Jesus had for children.
This is important, the Holy Father added because all people were created in the image and likeness of God, who views them as “even more precious the weaker” than they are seen “in the eyes of man.”
“With how much love then, must we welcome” and care for “a child not yet born and already affected with a sickness,” children who are orphaned, abandoned, or suffer from poverty, a disintegrated family, AIDS, war, drought or hunger? the Pope asked.
“The Catholic Church never forgets these children,” Benedict XVI continued. In fact, the Church “applauds the initiatives of the richer nations to improve the conditions for their development,” but she also “feels the compelling duty to call for greater attention to be paid to these brothers and sisters, so that, thanks to our joint solidarity they may look upon life with trust and hope."
Benedict XVI concluded his address by thanking those who devote their work to assisting children. He expressed particular appreciation Catholic social-healthcare associations and institutions and “our own 'Bambino Gesu' Hospital,” which “following the example of Jesus Christ the Good Samaritan and animated by charity, bring human, moral and spiritual support and relief to so many suffering children, who are the objects of God's special love.”