Pope Francis honored nurses and midwives, calling them “guardians of life” and “saints next door” especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“You are an image of the Church as a ‘field hospital’ that continues to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ,” said the pontiff in his message for International Nurses Day on May 12.
He cited the “fundamental importance of the role being played by nurses and midwives,” adding that being a nurse is more than just a profession.
The pope said nursing is a calling, a vocation, that is marked by heroism — even to the point of giving one’s life.
Pope Francis said the heroism of those in the medical profession, especially nurses, has been demonstrated through the high number of health care workers who have died “as a result of their faithful service.”
The International Council of Nurses estimates that “at least 90,000 health care workers have been infected, and more than 260 nurses have died.”
In Italy alone, 12,000 nurses have been infected with the virus, and 39 have died from it.
“I pray for them,” said the pope, “and for all the victims of this epidemic.”
“The Lord knows each of them by name,” he said, adding that “nurses have historically played a central role in health care.”
The pontiff reminded nurses that “moral responsibility is the hallmark of your professional service.”
He said that nurses are tasked with “continuous listening” as they take care of women and men, children and the elderly “in every phase of their life, from birth to death.”
Addressing leaders of nations, Pope Francis noted that in many countries the pandemic has also brought to light a number of “deficiencies” in the provision of health care.
He asked world leaders to “invest in health care … by strengthening its systems and employing greater numbers of nurses, so as to ensure adequate care to everyone, with respect for the dignity of each person.”
The pope cited the importance of enhancing nurses and midwives’ professionalism and involvement with the suitable “scientific, human, psychological and spiritual tools” necessary for their training.”
He also highlighted the important role of associations of healthcare workers that offer training and support individual members, “making them feel part of a larger body, never dismayed and alone as they face the ethical, economic and human challenges that their profession entails.”
As for midwives, Pope Francis said their work is among the most notable professions “for it is directly dedicated to the service of life and of motherhood.”
The International Nurses Day has been celebrated since 1965 to mark the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.