Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry, died in Poland last Wednesday, 13 July 2016. He was 67, and he was ill for some time.
I was sad when I first learnt of his pancreatic cancer in 2014. Last November, I met him at the International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. Zimowski appeared weak and fragile because of illness and therapy, but he was active and discharged his role as President of the conference with his crucial interventions and vigor.
Over the years, I have attended numerous meetings and conferences of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry, in the beginning as President of the Indian bishops’ Commission for Health and later as a member and Consultor of the Pontifical Council. Through all those years Zimowski has been a friend and a brother to me; and he has extended to me kind hospitality and a warm welcome during my visits to Rome.
Zimowski worked tirelessly for the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry. Since 2009, when Pope Benedict appointed him as President of the Council, I have seen that Zimowski was a compassionate and prominent figure working for the message of hope and faith for the suffering.
I recall with nostalgia his interventions, advocating the cause of the suffering with the words of St. John Paul II. The archbishop also referred to the example provided by St. John Paul II during the years of his illness.
The archbishop touched the hearts of all those who attended the conferences under the aegis of the Council, illustrating the importance of healthcare professionals providing spiritual closeness to their patients and sharing their suffering.
Zimowski secured a licence in Dogmatic Theology from the Catholic University of Lublin, and a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Later he worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His contribution to the Polish translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was notable.
In 2002 Pope John Paul II appointed Zimowski as Bishop of Radom. He was ordained to the episcopate by Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.
Zimowski spoke many languages in addition to his native Polish. I have noted with wonder how fluently he spoke Italian, German, English and French.
He authored a book, On the way of the Suffering Person: God has Visited His People, which is a compilation of his interviews, articles, interventions and presentations to various organizations including the WHO. This book takes us on a journey of a deep reflection of human suffering and illness, and the vocation of healthcare workers to bring comfort and healing to those who suffer from illness and the lack of healthcare.
Throughout the years, as President of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare, he has brought to the limelight numerous concerns of the sick and the suffering. His concerns included care of persons who suffer with autism spectrum disorders; care for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases; human health and care for the planet; and the importance of St. John Paul II’s teachings on the culture of life.
Zimowski also emphasized Benedict XVI’s teaching that no one in the world should feel alone or abandoned, particularly those who suffer and are in need, such as the sick. We need to be with them in their suffering so that it is a shared suffering.
I am thankful and privileged to have known and worked with Archbishop Zimowski. He is truly a man of God who has showed us by his example the meaning of spiritual care for the sick — a spirituality of mercy according to the example of the Good Samaritan.
I commend him to God, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother and St. John Paul II for the happy repose of his soul. Requiescat in Pace.