VATICAN CITY –– Good health is a benefit that needs to be defended and guaranteed for all people, not just for those who can afford it, Pope Benedict XVI told hundreds of health care workers.

The new evangelization is needed in the health field, especially during the current economic crisis “that is cutting resources for safeguarding health,” he said Nov. 17, addressing participants at a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

Hospitals and other facilities “must rethink their particular role in order to avoid having health become a simple ‘commodity,’ subordinate to the laws of the market, and, therefore, a good reserved to a few, rather than a universal good to be guaranteed and defended,” he said.

Nearly 600 people who work in the field of health care attended the council’s Nov. 15-17 international conference, which focused on the theme: “The Hospital, Setting for Evangelization: A Human and Spiritual Mission.”

The pope told them that, on the one hand, advancements in science and medicine have led to greater possibilities for curing the physical ailments of those who are ill.

“But on the other hand, it seems to have weakened the ability to care for the whole and unique person who suffers,” he added.

Such advancements, the pope said, seem “to cloud the ethical horizons of medical science, which risks forgetting that its vocation is serving every person and the whole person, in its different phases of existence” from conception to its natural end.

It is important that the Christian concepts of “compassion, solidarity, sharing, self-denial, generosity and giving oneself” become part of the vocabulary of all people involved in the world of health care, he said.

“Only when the wellbeing of the person, in its most fragile and defenseless condition and in search of meaning in the unfathomable mystery of pain, is very clearly at the center of medical and assisted care” can the hospital be seen as a place where healing isn’t a job, but a mission, the pope said.

Bringing life-giving and evangelizing assistance to others will always be expected of Catholic health workers, he said.

“Now more than ever our society needs ‘good Samaritans’ with a generous heart and arms open to all,” he added.

Being Catholic brings with it a greater responsibility to society, and Catholics need to live their lives with courage as a true vocation, he said.

Professionals and volunteers working in health care represent “a unique vocation, which necessitates study, sensitivity and experience,” he said. However, it’s also necessary to go beyond academic qualifications and develop a true capacity to respond to the mystery of suffering and see one’s work as a human and spiritual mission, he said.

Faith has a lot to teach about the mystery and value –– or “science” –– of suffering, and Catholic health workers “are qualified experts” in this field, the pope said.

“Your being Catholic, without fear, gives you a greater responsibility in the realm of society and the church,” Pope Benedict said. “It’s a real vocation” that was lived in an exemplary way by many saints including St. Gianna Beretta Molla and servant of God Jerome Lejeune, the French Catholic geneticist.