Pope Francis' address to SOMOS Community Care delegation and primary care physicians from around the world

Pope Francis’ address to SOMOS Community Care delegation and primary care physicians from around the world

On Saturday, May 25, 2024, at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis received in audience three hundred doctors from different countries participating in the international meeting promoted by the non-profit association “We are Community Care”, a non-profit association, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the occasion of the international campaign “Thank you, doctor!”.

The Bishop of Rome recalled fond moments of his childhood, especially those related to his family doctor and his mother’s pregnancy.

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Dear friends, good morning and welcome!

I am pleased to meet with you. I greet Doctor Ramon Tallaj, founder of SOMOS Community Care, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Together, in these days, you have focused on the importance of re-evaluating the role and presence of the family doctor in healthcare and the social sphere. This is very good, because the family doctor is a fundamental figure, who combines competence and proximity. I would like to highlight briefly two aspects of this mission, taken precisely from the understanding of a family doctor: that of being a doctor and that of being “of the family”.

First, the doctor, that is, the one who provides care. Science today has made significant strides, allowing us to access therapies that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. Yet medicine, even the most technologically advanced, is always first and foremost a human encounter, characterized by caring treatment, closeness and listening. When we are sick, we look to the doctor, to be not only a competent professional, but also to be a friendly presence we can count on, who instils confidence in healing and who, even when this is not possible, does not leave us alone, but continues to look us in the eye and assist us, until the end. Saint Luke, whom Saint Paul calls “the beloved physician” (Col 4:14), a colleague of yours, describes Jesus’ actions toward the sick in this way (cf. Lk 5:12-26; 8:40-56): he approached them, entered their homes, talked with them, listened to them, welcomed them in their suffering and healed them. The family doctor is similarly present and close, offering warmth as well as professional care, because he knows his patients and their loved ones personally and walks with them, day by day, even at the cost of personal sacrifice.

When I was a child, I remember the family doctor who came to our house and treated us; I also remember the family midwife, because there were five of us. When that woman came with the suitcase, we knew that a little brother was coming! I have very good memories of the family doctor back then.

This leads us to the second reason why the family doctor’s role is valuable:  being a member of the family. This community dimension of care, which requires “contextualizing each patient in his or her relationships” and in his or her “affective and social ties”. [1] The presence of the family doctor, in fact, helps to create a network of affection, sharing and solidarity around the sick person, going beyond the diagnostic and therapeutic phases. This strengthens human relationships and transforms suffering into a moment of communion to be experienced together, benefiting not only the patient, but also the caregiver, family members and the extended community. This approach helps to avoid the risk that the person suffering and those close to him or her will be caught within a bureaucratic and overly technical system; or worse, from becoming victims of a market mentality that has little to do with health, especially when it comes to the elderly and frail.

Care and familiarity are two gifts of great value to those who suffer!

As I said, I have many fond memories of the family doctor. I was born in ’36. I remember July 15, 1942. There was me and my brothers. My brother had the flu. The doctor came and said: “Let’s see…” A very nice memory! And he gave us the medicine: it was a cold, a flu. And then he approached mom. Mom was there, with dad, and he touched her belly and said: “Hey, it’s time! Let’s wait…”. And that same night the fourth was born. These memories of tenderness, of the familiarity of the family doctor, are things that I carry with me because at that time things were so, so nice!

Therefore, dear friends, the work you are doing is important. I renew my blessing on your project and pray for you. I ask you, please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!

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[1] Interview with Monsignor Renzo Pegoraro on “ The Pope’s Window”, 15 November 2023.