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Open Letter to Doctors

*Professor Wanda Victoria Półtawska is a medical doctor and a specialist in the field of psychiatry, and Professor of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. During World War II she was imprisoned in a German concentration camp at Ravensbrück and was a close friend of St. John Paul II.

OPEN LETTER TO DOCTORS AND MEDICAL STUDENTS

ON THE OCCASION OF THE CANONIZATION OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

March 5, 2014- For a long time, journalists have been trying to persuade me to give an interview on this occasion, as ‘I know more’ and had opportunity to dialog and work with Father Karol Wojtyła, later as Bishop, then as Cardinal, and finally as Pope John Paul II, our a great countryman, for so many years.

Indeed, I do ‘know more’, and I would like to share what he expected from doctors. Cardinal Sapieha entrusted him with the position as chaplain of doctors – so he took care of them, met with them, made friends, and was deeply convinced that priests should cooperate with doctors, since they work in the same field – they all take care of people.

He recognised the special responsibility of doctors, not only for their patient’s health, but also for their fate, nearly their eternal fate. He was sorry and disappointed that the “technical developments” in medicine sometimes posed a threat to established moral ethics and that a doctor’s advice and activities may be a threat to the very sanctity of the family and the capacity of human love.

He suffered, seeing the gradually deepening decline in morality, but he was of the opinion that doctors would be able to help avoid this decline if they spread the Truth of human sexuality and fertility, on the “theology of the body”. He very often repeated, “Create a strong union of Catholic doctors, to have impact on the public opinion” – this unfortunately never happened in Poland, nor anywhere in Europe – nor anywhere in the world.

He observed the condition of the family becoming more and more corroded and defended the dignity of the human being – he spoke to everybody everywhere, and he expected assistance from the doctors – but he was often disappointed.

I witnessed his reaction to the news when the Polish Parliament passed the law on killing ill unborn children. He got angry – which he did very seldomly, hardly ever – he banged his fist on the table and exclaimed, “And where are the paediatricians?! Why don’t they defend ill children, why don’t they react?!”

Thus, I thought that perhaps the moment is now, while so many people in Poland look forward his canonization and wonder how to prepare for it. Perhaps now doctors who believe in God, Catholic doctors, might react and acknowledge Him, myself and His teaching, and as a votive offering of gratitude to God and to John Paul II  to reveal to the world that they are practicing Catholics, that they faithful.

It is about a simple clear declaration of faith. I propose that all the colleagues and students sign the “Declaration of Faith”– and the idea is just dictated to me by my conscience, I simply must.

I can never forget a certain event. Bishop Karol Wojtyła came back from the Vatican Council, enthusiastic about the prophetic encyclical by Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, where the Pope urged bishops to make the issue of the sanctity of the family a priority in their pastoral activity – he took this recommendation seriously and was fulfilling it until the end of his life. He immediately arranged a regional meeting of parish priests with doctors, focusing on the Humanae Vitae encyclical.

I was once at a meeting with Father Stanisław Smoleński – at a large parish, where about 60-70 people came – and during the meeting I suggested that the priest take a sheet of paper to make a list of the participants so that we could invite the people personally to the following meetings. He brought the paper, I signed it first and circulated the paper around the room. The paper went around to each of the participants and came back to me – blank. Nobody signed. Well, these were the times of hard communism, and the people were afraid. They came anonymously and did not want to be revealed. And what of the present, how will it be now?

Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” (Mt 10,32).

I presented the first draft of the “Declaration of Faith” to Polish doctors, members of the Pro Vita Papal Academy (Prof. Zbigniew Chłap /Cracow/ and Prof. Janusz Gadzinowski /Poznań) and received acceptance from them, as well as from the Head of the Pro Vita Papal Academy, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula.

At the first audience for Poles, Pope John Paul II said: “Give me a base in Poland, so that I don’t have to be ashamed of you.” Yet, I think he was ashamed many times – and I think that we, Poles and Polish doctors, are in a way indebted to our great countryman – and perhaps this initiative will be a kind of compensation? 

I therefore would like to address all my colleagues, doctors and medical students with the appeal that; the belief in God the Creator, and in heaven and hell, is not naivety, but a realism of faith – and this is what people today lack. 

I have been in medicine for 65 years, and I know for sure that doctors may be of great influence on people and that they will certainly report to God and God alone on how they have fulfilled their vocation. And, as Saint John Paul II wished, they are able to have impact on the public opinion, on the contemporary civilisation – they may indeed defend the Christian values that are threatened. 

-Prof. Wanda Półtawska