Pope Francis welcomed doctors and nurses from the virus-stricken Lombardy region to the Vatican on Saturday in one of his first audiences since the country came out of lockdown.
The pontiff thanked healthcare workers for their heroic service in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country's most impacted region.
Speaking in the Vatican's frescoed Clementine Hall, he addressed a group of doctors, nurses, health care and civil protection workers: "You were one of the supporting pillars of the entire country.
"To those of you here and to your colleagues all across Italy go my esteem and my sincere thanks, and I know very well I am interpreting everyone's sentiments."
Italy has experienced one of the highest death tolls due to the Covid-19 crisis with more than 34,000 fatalities - half of which were in northern region of Lombardy where the first local case of the virus emerged. The area has since counted more than 92,000 infections.
"More than ever we feel gratitude for the doctors, nurses and all health care workers, on the front line as they carried out an arduous and sometimes heroic service," Pope Francis said.
"Many of them fell ill and some unfortunately died in the exercise of their profession. We remember them in prayer with much gratitude."
The Pope went on to describe doctors and nurses as "angels" as they comforted, supported and sometimes accompanied patients "to the threshold of the final encounter with the Lord."
"These health workers, supported by the solicitude of the hospital chaplains, have witnessed to God's closeness to those who suffer; they have been silent craftsmen of the culture of closeness and tenderness," he added.
Lombardy's governor, Attilio Fontana, who headed the delegation, has invited Francis to console and comfort those from the region who are still sick, or mourning the loss of loved ones.