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Healthcare workers in war zones

In the April 2019 edition of The Pope Video, Pope Francis asks for prayers for doctors and their humanitarian collaborators who work amid the ongoing armed conflicts in the world. He sees them as offering their expertise and compassionate presence to the victims of war, most of whom are civilians.

The Pope specifically asks Catholics to pray for doctors, nurses, and healthcare and humanitarian personnel in war zones. The presence of these professionals in areas wracked by conflict, he says, is a sign of hope for many people, because they “risk their lives to save the lives of others” and shine a light of humanity and mercy amidst the horrors of war.

As His Holiness Paul VI said on the occasion of the 11th Day of Peace (1978), doctors are “learned, valiant and good-hearted persons who have made the science and art of medicine their vocation and profession.” Pope Francis, in 2016 in his address to the Medical Associations of Spain and Latin America, added: “A doctor’s identity and commitment leans not only on his knowledge and technical competence, but primarily on his compassionate and merciful attitude towards those suffering in body and spirit. Compassion is in some way the very soul of medicine. Compassion is not pity, but to suffer-with.”

Today, there are more than 20 ongoing armed conflicts in the world, of which the following 7—according to UNHCR—have caused the greatest number of victims and forced displacements: Yemen, Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, which have also been experiencing constant conflict for years. As various humanitarian organizations have denounced, hospitals and health centers can no longer be considered safe places in today’s wars, because they are routinely bombed as war targets, against the stipulations of international humanitarian law.

Fr Frédéric Fornos, the international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (which includes the Eucharistic Youth Movement), points out that civilians are the principle victims of armed conflicts, and “that’s why healthcare personnel is essential in war zones. They save lives and alleviate suffering under dangerous conditions.” Nevertheless, they are often attacked, when international humanitarian law is not respected. “Let us remember and pray for these men and women who offer their own lives to save the lives of others.”

As Pope Francis said in Gaudete et Exsultate [5], “the offering of one’s own life for others is also a path of holiness.” Francis also made this point during his meeting with the Italian Red Cross on 27 January 2018, when he said, “The Good Samaritan doesn’t make the wounded man pass any preliminary test, he doesn’t judge him, and he doesn’t subject his help to moral prerogatives, not even religious ones.”

The Pope Video is an official global initiative to disseminate the Holy Father’s monthly intentions. It is carried out by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer).