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Pope Francis criticized groups protesting coronavirus restrictions and praised medical workers in an op-ed published Thursday in The New York Times.

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“With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives,” the pontiff wrote Thursday. “Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

Francis, 83, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, wrote that his own personal health crisis helped him to understand how science can be used to help people recover. The pope said he was 21 in 1957 when he had part of his lung removed, The Hill reported.

“When I got really sick at the age of 21, I had my first experience of limit, of pain and loneliness,” Francis, who became pope on March 13, 2013, wrote in the op-ed. “It changed the way I saw life.”

That is why, Francis wrote, he had so much praise for doctors and medical workers who are taking care of the sick during the pandemic, when they are putting their own lives at risk.

“This theme of helping others has stayed with me these past months,” the pope wrote. “In lockdown I’ve often gone in prayer to those who sought all means to save the lives of others. So many of the nurses, doctors and caregivers paid that price of love, together with priests, and religious and ordinary people whose vocations were service. We return their love by grieving for them and honoring them.”

Francis added that the first responders’ choice testified to the belief “that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call.”

“That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe,” Francis wrote. “They are the saints next door, who have awakened something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

“They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service.”

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