POPE AND MEDICAL DOCTOR Church for the Poor : What Pope Francis teaches us Catholic Doctors
The Argentinian Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio was just elected Pope a few weeks ago, just before Easter, taking the regnal name Francis. Nevertheless, through his nature and character, he has established his own style of Papacy, much to the admiration of a lot of us.
As Catholic doctors, there is a lot we can learn from Pope Francis, and we should actually look up to him as a role model in serving the people. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, he is a figure who is humble and very concerned about the poor and disadvantaged. When we identify ourselves as Catholic doctors, we are not mere doctors who happen to believe in the Catholic faith, but we are medical professionals who incorporate Catholic teachings into our daily activities. Do we base our actions on the honest intention to improve the general well-being of people or is making money our sole reason of carrying out our duties? Have we shown humility as doctors and provide the most sincere care to our patients, or do we just consider them as objects? In treating our patients, do we consider all of them equal? Or do we turn a blind eye on our patients who are struggling financially?
It is important to acknowledge the reality that a lot of the world’s 7 billion people are living under the poverty line. In line with this, we have to also appreciate that a lot of these impoverished people have trouble accessing the appropriate healthcare they deserve, particularly in the developing countries in Asia, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe. In my opinion, the first point we have fully grasp is that we could become who we are now as medical professionals not only because of our talents and efforts, but also because of God’s will. Through His grace and with His blessings, we develop our talents and skills to become experts in our respective medical fields, such as cardiology, surgery, gynaecology, and so on.
Using this expertise to serve the patients with sincerity and humility, especially those who are financially disadvantaged, is our noble way to thank God for the privileges He has given us. We have to remember Jesus’ message to us when He talked about the kingdom of heaven and the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). There He emphasised that whatever we do to the least of his brethren, we do it to Him. It is through these lowly and poor people that we could see the face of Jesus. Furthermore, as we recall, from the parable of the good Samaritan, the two greatest commandments Jesus gave us are to love God unconditionally and to love others as ourselves (Luke 10:25-37, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18).
Combining this with our oath, is it important to always realise that it should be our nature to serve people without discrimination. Pope Francis has called us all, including us medical professionals, to care for and serve the poor. It is one of the, if not the, central theme of his Papacy. He has said that he wants the Church to be the Church for the poor. There are a number of inspirational people we can view as examples to serve the lowly. Saint Damien of Molokai SS.CC., despite not being a medical professional himself, devoted his life to care for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony in Hawaii.
We then also have Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who showed great devotion to care for the disadvantaged people from the slums of India. More recently, we have Fr. John Lee Tae-Soek SDB, a Korean medical doctor who dedicated his life to the services of the poor people with leprosy in war-ravaged Southern Sudan. Pope Francis also reminded us to put more emphasis on human life and dignity on top of other material matters. The pro-life movements should focus their actions not only to prevent abortion, but also to save people’s lives and prevent euthanasia. On the other hand, in the recent times, we have witnessed the advances of medical technology which are able to provide the best treatment for various diseases and illnesses.
Unfortunately, a lot of these technologies are only accessible to very few people who have significant financial advantage to afford them. If we flash back to a quarter of century ago, when these technologies were not invented, doctors were still able to utilise purely their talents and skills to accurately diagnose and provide the appropriate and acceptable treatment for the same diseases and illnesses. A lot of doctors in the recent times rely heavily on these very expensive technologies, although they might not provide significant advantage over the conventional techniques employed decades ago. Even worse, these doctors are often pressured by the medical institution (e.g. the hospital) to utilise these cutting-edge technologies, albeit unnecessary, to pay off the debt for purchasing the equipment. The point to highlight here is to warn us Catholic doctors not to fall into the traps of commercialisation of our services. Again, it is imperative to constantly remind ourselves that we should put more focus of our duties on the patients and not the institutions we work for.
I recall my own personal experience a couple of years ago when a young boy from a Muslim family diagnosed with tetanus and required immediate hospital treatment was unable to do so because of his parents’ financial difficulties. When I learned about his background story, I decided to donate some money for his treatment. The boy was eventually cured, and a week later his mum came to thank me. One sentence which touched my heart was, “You must be a Christian, as you have been very kind.”
May this thought empower us Catholic doctors to serve with our sincere heart, providing the healthcare to all patients regardless of their background, especially their financial situations. Remember, with His love, God has given us talents and privileges. Thus, it is only appropriate to share the love to others, especially to those who earnestly need our help; those who are poor and disadvantaged. Caring for the least of His brethren is our way to glorify His name. Let us pray so that God bless us in all our duties to serve Him and others.
Ignatius H. Widjaja, President of AFCMA (Asian Federation of Catholic Medical Associations)