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Pope Francis meets with 600 doctors who help people in need in New York

ANDREAS SOLARO | AFP
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Urges them to do good, to body and spirit.

Some 600 doctors—some Catholics, others not, but all belonging to Somos, an organization that brings together doctors to attend people in need in New York City— had a special encounter last week with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Dr. Ramón Tallaj, who was named Doctor of the Year in 2016 and is the founder of this organization (which today includes 3,000 doctors, and continues to grow), thanked the pope for the opportunity to be with him and for the pontiff’s appreciating “the vocation to serve humanity and the common good.”

It’s a vocation the members of Somos put into practice daily with economically disadvantaged patients, most of whom are immigrants living in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

A “mission at the service of human frailty”

The pope praised their work and reminded them that they have a “mission at the service of human frailty.” He encouraged them to “do good to life, in body and spirit” even though medical treatment may not always result in physical healing.

A culture of encounter, in which “no one is discarded or pigeonholed”

Unfortunately, medical care today is a “right guaranteed to the few and unavailable to many,” Pope Francis said. What can we do, then, to improve society? Foster a “culture of encounter,” in which “no one is discarded or pigeonholed.”

“No” to the “globalization of indifference”

A culture of encounter is how to battle the evils the pope pointed out: individualism and utilitarianism, which have led to what he calls the “globalization of indifference,” and which have resulted in the practice of medicine being dominated by technicality, “distorting the ultimate meaning of care itself.”

Pope Francis encouraged the doctors to turn to the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted.”

The pope chose to greet personally those present and, at the end of his address, departing from the program, he made a circuit of the hall, such that many doctors had the chance to speak with him. Among those present in Paul VI Hall were the current president of Somos, Dr. Henry Chen, and the current CEO, Mario Paredes.

The pope was also accompanied by two members of the clergy who have ties to the Latin American immigrant community: Msgr. Lorenzo Vargas, Pastoral Vicar of the archdiocese of Santo Domingo, and Bishop Jesús Castro, rector of Santo Domingo Catholic University in the Dominican Republic.

A new focus for their work

“It was an emotional experience for me to be able to talk to the pope in Spanish, and what he said helped me to refocus my work as a pediatrician, with an even greater desire to serve,” said Dr. Ana Olivero, who attends to the medical needs of children in the Bronx, and is of Dominican background.

Benicio del Toro: I come to thank the Pope

Amidst the doctors of Somos, in the front row, were two celebrities: actor Benicio del Toro and pianist Raúl di Blasio. Benicio del Toro said that he’s a “baptized Catholic” and that he hadn’t come “to give a message to the pope, but to thank him for being attentive to the people most in need and for helping the world progress.”

The actor, who is of Puerto Rican origin but who has adopted Spanish nationality, asked to “tag along” to the audience because he has a brother, Gustavo, who is a pediatric oncologist and who is a member of Somos.

When Benicio del Toro was asked if he had attended the doctors’ conference, he joked: “I’m a newbie.”

As for his faith, del Toro was raised in a Catholic family and studied at Perpetual Help Academy, a Catholic school in Miramar, Puerto Rico.

Raúl di Blasio’s offer

Di Blasio, on his part, decided to offer himself “to give a concert for young people wherever and whenever the pope wants.” At the end of the audience, the musician said he was happy to have gotten to meet the pope “so close up.”

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