World Day of Sick

Message of Pope John Paul II
on the occasion of the sixth World Day of the Sick
(February 11, 1998)

Prepared for internet by Msgr. Peter Nguyen Van Tai,
Radio Veritas Asia, Philippines

The celebration of the sixth World Day of the Sick will take place at the shrine of Loreto. The choice of Loreto harmonises well with the long tradition of the Church's loving attention to those suffering in body and in spirit. It will not fail to enliven the prayer which the faithful, trusting in Mary's intercession, offer up to the Lord for the sick. This important occasion also gives the Church community the opportunity to pause in devout recollection before the Holy House, the icon of such a fundamental event and mystery as is the Incarnation of the Word, to receive te light and strength of the Spirit, who transforms man's heart into a dwelling of hope.

Christ redeemed the human condition by sharing in it

"And the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). In the shrine of Loreto, more than elsewhere, it is possible to sense the profound meaning of these words of the Evangelist John. Within the walls of the Holy House, in an especially forceful manner Jesus Christ, "God with us", speaks to us of the Father's love (cf. Jn 3:16), which in the redemptive Incarnation was manifested in the loftiest way. God himself, in search of man, became man, building a bridge between divine transcendence and the human condition. "Through divine in nature, he did not regard his equality with God as a treasure to be grasped, but stripped himself... becoming obedient unto death, and death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8). Christ did not come to remove our afflictions, but to share in them and, in taking them on, to confer upon them a salvific value by becoming a partaker in the human condition, with its limits and its sorrows, he redeemed it. The salvation accomplished by him, already prefigured in the healings of the sick, opens up horizons of hope for all who find themselves in the difficult time of suffering.

Mary is icon of compassion towards the suffering

"In the womb of the Virgin Mary". When we contemplate the walls of the Holy House, we still seem to hear the echo of the words by which the Mother of the Lord gave her assent and her co-operation to God's saving plan: ecce, generous abandonment; fiat, trusting submission. Having become pure capacity for God, Mary made her life a constant co-operation with the saving work carried out by her Son, Jesus.

In declaring herself to be the servant of the Lord, Mary knew she was also placing herself at the service of his love for men. By her example, she helps us understand that the unconditional acceptance of God's sovereignty places man in an attitude of complete openness. In this way, the Virgin becomes the icon of watchful attention and compassion towards those suffering.

By looking at her, the Health of the Sick, many Christians over the course of the centuries have learned to clothe their care of the sick in maternal tenderness.

In a world lacerated by sufferings, contradictions, selfishness and violence, the believer lives in the awareness that "all creation moans and suffers until the present in birth pangs" (Rom 8:22) and takes on the commitment to be a witness to the risen Christ in word and deed.

The successes achieved in overcoming diseases and relieving sufferings must not, however, lead us to forget the numerous situations in which the centrality and dignity of the human person are ignored and trampled upon, as occurs when health care is regarded in terms of profit and not as generous service, when the family is left alone to face health problems, or when the weakest groups in society are forced to endure the consequences of unjust neglect and discrimination.

On the occasion of this Wolrd Day of the Sick, I want to urge the Church community to renew its commitment to transforming human society into a "house of hope", in collaboration with all believers and people of goodwill.

Church must encourge the defence of life

This commitment requires that the Church community live communion: only where men and women, through listening to the Word, prayer and celebration of the sacraments, become "one in heart and soul" do fraternal solidarity and the sharing of goods grow, and what St. Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth becomes a reality: "If one member suffers, all the members suffer together" (1Cor 12:26).

As she prepares for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Church is called to intensify her effort to translate the communion suggested by the Apostle's words in to concrete projects. Dioceses, parishes and all communities in the Church should devote themselves to presenting the subjects of health and illness in the light of the Gospel; encourage the advancement and defence of life and the dignity of the human person, from conception until natural death, and make the preferential option for the poor and the marginalised concrete and visible - as regards the latter, the victims of the new social maladies, the disabled, the chronically ill, the dying and those who are forced by political and social disorder to leave their land and live in precarious or even inhuman conditions should be surrounded with loving attention.

Communities capable of living an authentic Gospel diakonia by seeing "their Lord and Master" in the poor and the sick represent an old proclamation of the Resurrection and contribute to effectively renewing hope "in the definitive coming of the kingdom of God".

Dear people who are ill, a special place is reserved for you in the Church community. The condition of suffering in which you live and the desire to recover your health make you particularly sensitive to the value of hope. To the intercession of Mary I entrust your aspiration to bodily and spiritual well-being and I exhort you to enlighten and elevate it with the theological virtue of hope, a gift of Christ.

It will help you to give new meaning to suffering, transforming it into a eay of salvation, and occasion for evangelisation and redemption. Indeed, suffering can even have a positive meaning for the individual and for society itself, since each person is called to a form of sharing in the salvific suffering of Christ and in his joy as the Risen One, as well as, thereby, to become a force for the sanctification and building up of the Church" (Christtifideles laici, n. 54; cf. Encyclical Salvific doloris, n. 23). Your experience of pain, modelled on Christ's and indewlt by the Holy Spirit, will proclaim the victorious power of the Resurrection.

The contemplation of the Holy House naturally leads us to dwell upon the Family of Nazareth, where trials were not lacking.

My wish is that from that home the gift of serenity and trust may reach every human family wounded by suffering. While inviting the ecclesial and civil community to assume responsibility for the difficult situations in which many families find themselves under the burden imposed by the illness of a relative, I remind you that the Lord's command to visit the sick is addressed first of all to the relatives of the ill. When carried out in a spirit of loving self-giving and supported by faith, prayer and the sacraments, the care of sick relatives can be transformed into an irreplaceable therapeutic instrument for the ill and become an occasion for everyone to discover precious human and spiritual values.

Believers know that suffering is occasion of grace

In this context, my thoughts turn particularly to health-care and pastoral workers, both professionals and volunteers, who constinuously live in proximity to the needs of the sick. I want to urge them always to maintain a lofty conception of the tasks entrusted to them, without letting themselves be overcome by difficulties and incomprehension. To dedicate oneself to the world of health care does not mean only to combat evil, but above all to promote the quality of human life.

Unlike those who "lack hope" (cf. 1Thes 4:13), the believer knows that the time of suffering represents an occasion for new life, grace and resurrection. He expresses this certainty through therapeutic dedication, a capacity for accepting and accompanying, and sharing in the life of Christ communicated in prayer and the sacraments. To take care of the sick and the dying, to help the outward man that is decaying so that the inward man may be renewed day by day (cf. 2Cor 4:16) - is this not to co-operate in the process of resurrection which the Lord has introduced into human history with the paschal mystery and which will be fully consummated at the end of time? Is this not to account for the hope (cf. 1Pet 3:15) which has been given to us? In every tear which is dried there is already an announcement of the last times, a foretaste of the final plenitude (cf. rev. 21:4 and Is. 25:8).

Aware of this, the Christian community strives to care for the sick and promote the quality of life, co-operating with all men of goodwill. It performs this delicate mission in service to man, both in respectful but firm discussion with the forces manifesting different moral views and by a positive contribution to legislation on the environment, support for equitable distribution of health resources and the promotion of greater solidarity between rich and poor peoples (cf. Tertio milennio adveniente, n. 46).

To Mary, Comfort of the Afflicted, I entrust those who suffer in body an in spirit, together with health care workers and all who generously devote themselves to the care of the sick.

To Mary's tenderness as mother we entrust the tears, sighs and hopes of the sick. May their pain, united to Jesus', be transformed into an instrument of redemption.

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