Pope Francis praises nurses for heroics during coronavirus pandemic

Belgian nurses pose with trays of cookies and pastries that they received to celebrate International Nurses Day at Erasme Hospital in Brussels May 12, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Yves Herman, Reuters) 

Pope Francis today called on leaders of nations throughout the world “to invest in health care as the primary common good, 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.”

In a message released by the Vatican on May 12, he offered high praise to nurses for the heroic work they are doing, particularly during this time of pandemic. “At this critical moment, marked by the global health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the pope said, “we have rediscovered the fundamental importance of the role being played by nurses and midwives.” The virus has infected more than four million people in 187 countries, causing over 284,000 deaths worldwide.


“Every day,” he said, “we witness the testimony of courage and sacrifice of health care workers and nurses, in particular, who, with professionalism, self-sacrifice and a sense of responsibility and love for neighbor, assist people affected by the virus, even to the point of putting their own health at risk. Sadly, this can be seen in the high number of health care workers who have died as a result of their faithful service.”

Based on information from 30 countries, 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.

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“At this critical moment, marked by the global health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Pope Francis said, “we have rediscovered the fundamental importance of the role being played by nurses and midwives.” 

In his message, Francis said: “I pray for them—the Lord knows each of them by name—and for all the victims of this epidemic. May the Risen Lord grant to each of them the light of heaven and to their families the consolation of faith.”

Pope Francis offered the message as the world celebrated International Nurses Day, in the context of the International Year of Nurses and Midwives officially declared by the World Health Organization. In his message, he recalled that we are also celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of Florence Nightingale, “the pioneer of modern nursing.”

He told nurses, “It is important to recognize in an effective way the essential role your profession plays in patient care, local emergency activity, disease prevention, health promotion and assistance in family, community and school settings.”

Addressing the wider public, and especially governments, Francis said: “Nurses, as well as midwives, deservedly have the right to be better and more fully valued and involved in processes concerning the health of individuals and communities. It has been shown that investing in them improves overall care and health.

“You are close to people at crucial moments in their existence—birth and death, disease and healing—helping them deal with traumatic situations. Because of your dedication, you are among the ‘saints next door.’”

“Their professionalism should thus be enhanced by providing suitable scientific, human, psychological and spiritual tools for their training, by improving their working conditions and by guaranteeing their rights, so that they can carry out their service in full dignity.”

In this regard, he recognized the “important role” played by “associations of healthcare workers,” which not only offer comprehensive training but also help individual members “feel part of a larger body, never dismayed and alone as they face the ethical, economic and human challenges that their profession entails.”

According to the Global Health Observatory, of the 43.5 million health workers in the world, about 21 million are nurses and midwives, yet 50 percent of World Health Organization’s member states report less than three nursing and midwifery personnel per 1,000 people (about 25 percent report less than one per 1,000 people).

He remembered nurses especially as he began his televised morning Mass, May 12, in the chapel of St. Martha, in the Vatican guesthouse where he lives: “Let us pray today for nurses...who practice this profession, which is more than a profession, it is a vocation, a dedication. May the Lord bless them!”

Moreover, he said, “in this time of pandemic, they have given an example of heroism, and some have given their life. Let us pray for these women and men nurses.”

He recalled that “nurses have historically played a central role in health care,” and said, “every day, in their contact with the sick, they experience the trauma caused by suffering in people’s lives. They are men and women who have chosen to say ‘yes’ to a very special vocation: that of being good Samaritans who are concerned for the life and suffering of others. They are guardians and preservers of life, who, even as they administer necessary treatments, offer courage, hope and trust.”

Addressing them directly, Francis said, “Dear nurses, moral responsibility is the hallmark of your professional service, which cannot be reduced to scientific-technical knowledge alone, but must be constantly inspired by your human and humanizing relationship with the sick.”

He told them: “Taking care of women and men, of children and elderly, in every phase of their life, from birth to death, you are tasked with continuous listening, aimed at understanding what the needs of that patient are, in the phase that he or she is experiencing. Before the uniqueness of each situation, indeed, it is never enough to follow a protocol, but a constant...effort of discernment and attention to the individual person is required.”

He told the nurses and the midwives, “You are close to people at crucial moments in their existence—birth and death, disease and healing—helping them deal with traumatic situations. Sometimes you find yourself at their side as they are dying, giving comfort and relief in their last moments. Because of your dedication, you are among the ‘saints next door.’”

Moreover, he said, “You are an image of the church as a ‘field hospital’ that continues to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ, who drew near to and healed people with all kinds of sickness and who stooped down to wash the feet of his disciples.” He thanked them for their “service to humanity.”

Francis expressed a special word of appreciation for midwives “who assist women in their pregnancies and help them give birth to their children.” He told them, “Your work is among the most noble of professions, for it is directly dedicated to the service of life and of motherhood.”

He expressed the hope that today’s celebration “may highlight the dignity of your work for the benefit of the health of society as a whole.” He concluded by imparting his blessing to all nurses and midwives and assuring them “of my prayers for you, your families and those for whom you care.”

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