VATICAN CITY — "The experience of pain and suffering concerns not only the bodily dimension but the totality of a person," Pope Francis said April 12, during a meeting with some 120 Italian surgeons who specialize in treating cancer patients. "Every medical approach to suffering must take into account the unity of the person, body and spirit."

The doctors were in Rome to attend the congress of the Italian Oncological Society. At the audience, the pope stressed the "need for an integral approach to healing, in which the whole person is considered."

For those who are suffering, medical care cannot be divorced from the spiritual dimension, and must be accompanied by the psychological and social support of fellow human beings, and by support from the families, the pope said.

"I often ask myself the excruciating question which Dostoevsky asked: Why do children suffer?" said Pope Francis. "Only Christ can give sense to the scandal of innocent pain. I shall pray for all the men and women you are healing."

Pope Francis also quoted from a 1985 document by Blessed John Paul II, which linked the suffering of human beings to that of Christ and said suffering leads to the "beauty" of life.

Also April 12, Pope Francis met with members of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, created 60 years ago by Pope Pius XII.

Pope Francis called upon members of the committee, holding their plenary congress in Rome, to promote dialogue and cooperation between religion and the cultural institutions of the modern world, including scientific institutions.

"These two elements can be distinguished," the pope said, referring to science and religion as well as body and soul, "for they are one and cannot be separated."