Compassion: sharing passion. Mercy: empathy for the miserable. Compassionate deeds of mercy - advocated in the Gospel of Matthew - have reached us from late Latin times, through medieval Christianity, across centuries of evangelical and secular religiosity, benevolence, and philanthropy. Today's social context has changed profoundly, and the deeper meaning of such moral and behavioural categories can be expressed in different, up-to-date actions: feeding the hungry thus becomes giving less food to the obese; providing shelter to pilgrims becomes embracing immigrants; visiting the ill becomes maintaining a dialogue with patients. Today's new forms of poverty and fragility require a different lesson of mercy.
Giorgio Cosmacini is a physician, historian, philosopher who teaches at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan.