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“You have been one of the pillars of the whole country. To you here and to your colleagues throughout Italy go my esteem and my sincere thanks, and I know well that I interpret the feelings of everyone,” Pope Francis said in a June 20 address to healthcare workers from Lombardy, the hardest hit among the Italian hotspots during the COVID-19 outbreak. In his first large public audience at the Vatican since lockdown was imposed, the Pope lauded health workers’ efforts to comfort families as well as patients, remarking that the former “found in you almost other family members, capable of combining professional competence with those attentions that are concrete expressions of love..”

The pontiff expressed his gratitude for the service of the frontline workers, and observed, “Even if exhausted, you have continued to commit yourselves with professionalism and self-denial. And this generates hope. You have been one of the pillars of the whole country.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly praised the work of nurses and credits his recovery from a life-threatening illness during his twenties to the intervention of a nurse who treated him. The Pope referred to this experience in a 2018 speech to members of the Federation of Professional Nursing Colleges, Health Assistants, and Child Wardens, and added, “The role of nurses in assisting the patient is truly irreplaceable. Like no other, the nurse has a direct and continuous relationship with patients, takes care of them every day, listens to their needs and comes into contact with their very body…”

Although Italy has been emerging from lockdown, social distancing laws are still in effect. Those attending wore protective masks and Pope Francis told the healthcare workers that he would approach them himself at the end of the audience rather than have them follow the customary practice of lining up to greet him. For more details on the Pope’s speech, visit here.

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