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February 8, 2022
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February 8, 2022

Nearness, charity for those who suffer

Following is an edited version of Pope Francis’ message for the 30th World Day of the Sick (February 11, 2022) issued on December 10, 2021, Memorial of Our Lady of Loreto, at the St John Lateran Basilica, Rome, Italy.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36): Standing beside those who suffer on a path of charity.”

Dear brothers and sisters,

Thirty years ago, Saint John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick to encourage the people of God, Catholic health institutions and civil society to be increasingly attentive to the sick and to those who care for them. [1]

We are grateful to the Lord for the progress made over the years in the particular Churches worldwide. Many advances have been made, yet there is still a long way to go in ensuring that all the sick, also those living in places and situations of great poverty and marginalization, receive the health care they need, as well as the pastoral care that can help them experience their sickness in union with the crucified and risen Christ.

The theme chosen for this Thirtieth World Day of the Sick, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36), makes us first turn our gaze towards God, who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4); he always watches over his children with a father’s love, even when they turn away from him. Mercy is God’s name par excellence; mercy, understood not as an occasional sentimental feeling but as an ever-present and active force, expresses God’s very nature.

The supreme witness of the Father’s merciful love for the sick is his only-begotten Son. How often do the Gospels relate Jesus’ encounters with people suffering from various diseases! He “went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people” (Mt 4:23).

One twentieth-century philosopher suggests a reason for this: “Pain isolates in an absolute way, and absolute isolation gives rise to the need to appeal to the other, to call out to the other.” [2]

When individuals experience frailty and suffering in their own flesh as a result of illness, their hearts become heavy, fear spreads, uncertainties multiply, and questions about the meaning of what is happening in their lives become all the more urgent. How can we forget, in this regard, all those patients who, during this time of pandemic spent the last part of their earthly life in solitude, in an intensive care unit, assisted by generous healthcare workers, yet far from their loved ones and the most important people in their lives?

Jesus’ invitation to be merciful like the Father has particular significance for healthcare workers. I think of all those physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, the support staff, and the caretakers of the sick, as well as the numerous volunteers who donate their precious time to assist those who suffer.

Let us thank the Lord for the progress that medical science has made, especially in recent times; new technologies have made it possible to prepare therapies that are of great benefit to the sick; research continues to make a valuable contribution to eliminating old and new pathologies; rehabilitation medicine has greatly expanded its expertise and skills.

None of this, however, must make us forget the uniqueness of each patient, his or her dignity and frailties. [4] Patients are always more important than their diseases, and for this reason, no therapeutic approach can prescind from listening to the patient, his or her history, anxieties, and fears.

The World Day of the Sick is also a good occasion to focus our attention on centres of care. Down the centuries, showing mercy to the sick led the Christian community to open innumerable “inns of the good Samaritan”, where love and care can be given to people with various kinds of sickness, especially those whose health needs are not being met due to poverty or social exclusion or to the difficulties associated with treating certain pathologies.

In these situations, it is children, the elderly and those who are most frail who most often pay the price. Merciful like the Father, countless missionaries have combined the preaching of the Gospel with the construction of hospitals, dispensaries, and care homes. These are precious means whereby Christian charity has taken visible shape and the love of Christ, witnessed by that of his disciples, has become more credible.

We see this, for example, in the scarcity of available vaccines against Covid-19 in poor countries; but even more in the lack of treatment for illnesses that require much simpler medicines.

In this context, I wish to reaffirm the importance of Catholic healthcare institutions: they are a precious treasure to be protected and preserved; their presence has distinguished the history of the Church, showing her closeness to the sick and the poor, and to situations overlooked by others. [5]

In the past thirty years, pastoral health care has also seen its indispensable service increasingly recognized. If the worst discrimination suffered by the poor – including the sick, who are poor in health – is the lack of spiritual attention, we cannot fail to offer them God’s closeness, his blessing, and his word, as well as the celebration of the sacraments and the opportunity for a journey of growth and maturation in faith. [6]

The ministry of consolation is a task for every baptized person, mindful of the word of Jesus: “I was sick and you visited me” (Mt 25:36).

Dear brothers and sisters, to the intercession of Mary, Health of the Infirm, I entrust all the sick and their families. United with Christ, who bears the pain of the world, may they find meaning, consolation, and trust. I pray for healthcare workers everywhere, that, rich in mercy, they may offer patients, together with suitable care, their fraternal closeness.

To all I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Francis





 

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