The Pope\'s proposal was heard today by 536 delegates attending an international conference on \"Pastoral Aspects of the Treatment of Infectious Diseases,\" organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. The conference ends Saturday.
Stressing the importance of the conference\'s theme, the Holy Father said that words \"such as leprosy, plague, tuberculosis, AIDS, Ebola, evoke tragic scenes of pain and fear.\"
One is affected by the \"pain of the victims and their loved ones, often crushed by a sense of helplessness in the face of the inexorable gravity of the illness,\" the Pontiff said. Such an illness causes \"fear for the population in general and for those who, because of their profession or voluntary choices, approach these patients,\" he added.
In regard to the Church\'s response to this challenge, Benedict XVI said that the first thing needed is \"closeness to the patient.\"
\"The example of Christ -- who, breaking with the prescription of the age, not only allowed lepers to approach him, but restored their health and dignity as persons -- has \'infected\' many of his disciples throughout the more than 2,000 years of Christian history,\" the Pope noted.
He continued: \"Francis of Assisi\'s kiss to the leper has found imitators not only in heroic personalities -- such as Blessed Damien de Veuster, who died on the island of Molokai while taking care of lepers, or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, or the Italian nuns killed a few years ago by the Ebola virus -- but also in promoters of initiatives for those affected by infectious diseases, especially in developing countries.
\"This rich tradition of the Catholic Church must be kept alive, so that through the exercise of charity to those who suffer values will be visible inspired in authentic humanity and in the Gospel: the dignity of the person, mercy, Christ\'s identification with the sick. Every intervention is insufficient if one does not perceive in it love of man, a love that is nourished by the encounter with Christ.\"
The second challenge highlighted by Benedict XVI is the need \"to evangelize the cultural environment in which we live.\"
\"Among the prejudices that hinder or limit an effective help to victims of infectious diseases is an attitude of indifference or even exclusion and rejection, which sometimes arises in the welfare society,\" the Holy Father lamented.
\"This attitude is fostered by the image transmitted by the media of a man or woman preoccupied above all with physical beauty, health and biological vitality,\" he continued. \"It is a dangerous cultural tendency which leads to putting oneself at the center, to shutting oneself in a small world, and to fleeing from commitment to serve the needy.\"
Benedict XVI stressed that Catholics must \"support the sick when they are faced with suffering, helping them to transform their own condition in a moment of grace for themselves and for others, through intense participation in the mystery of Christ.\"
As a third point, the Pontiff highlighted the importance of \"collaboration with the different public entities so that social justice is applied in a sector as delicate as care and assistance to those affected by infectious diseases.\"
In particular, he appealed for an \"equitable distribution of resources for research and treatments, as well as the promotion of conditions of life that halt the emergence and expansion of infectious diseases.\"