ROME — Health care is a fundamental right for all and not a privilege for the rich while the poor and disadvantaged are left to the wayside, Pope Francis said.

“When a country loses this wealth that is public health care, it begins to make distinctions within the population between those who have access, who can have paid health care, and those who are left without health care services,” the pope said June 4 to representatives of the Italian health care association, Federsanità.

According to its website, Federsanità is a confederation of local health care facilities and hospitals that seek to promote policies “strongly oriented toward a new concept of ‘taking care’ of patients based on proximity, proactivity, personalization and participation.”

In his address, the pope said closeness to patients is “the antidote to self-referentiality” that “breaks the chains of selfishness” and allows health care professionals to view patients “as brothers and sisters, regardless of language, geographical origin, social status or health condition.”

“Being close to others also means breaking down distances, making sure that there are no first- and second-class patients, and committing energies and resources so that no one is excluded from receiving health care,” he said.

Medical professionals, he said, should adopt a more holistic approach to health care that takes into account not only a patient’s illness but also “his or her psychological, social, cultural and spiritual condition.”

“When Jesus heals someone, he not only eradicates the physical ailment from the body, but also restores dignity, reintroducing him or her into society, giving them a new life. Of course, only he can do this, but the attitude, the approach to the person is a model for us,” he explained.

Placing the dignity of the person at the center, he added, helps to counter the “throwaway culture” that views the sick “as a burden and a cost.”

“Illnesses may mark the body, confuse thoughts and take away strength, but they can never nullify the value of human life, which must always be protected, from conception to its natural end,” he said.

Lastly, Pope Francis said health care professionals must seek the common good to counter “the pursuit of partisan interests” in which “the economic or political interests of one group prevail at the expense of the majority of the population.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has proven that “‘every man for himself’ translates rapidly into ‘everyone against all,’ thus widening the gap of inequality and increasing conflict.”

“It is necessary to work to ensure that everyone has access to care, that the health care system is supported and promoted, and that it continues to be free of charge,” the pope said. “Cutting resources for health care is an outrage to humanity.”