Saint Pope John Paul II declared 11 February as the World Day of the Sick which coincides with the commemoration of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is a day that the Universal Church prays specially for the sick and also for those who are dedicated to the care of the sick – doctors, nurses and caregivers. It was initiated by Saint John Paul II in 1992 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (1991). He encouraged everyone to pray for all those who are suffering with all kind of diseases.
This year as we celebrate the 28th World Day of the Sick, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen the theme entitled, “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest,” (Matt 11: 28). Jesus was in solidarity with all those who were hurt, the afflicted, the poor, the sick, the sinners and the marginalized. These people were depending on Him, and in need of healing. Christ Jesus did not provide the sick “prescriptions, but through His passion, death and resurrection He frees us from the grip of evil.” Jesus invites every sick person to come to Him in order to find strength, hope, peace and joy. The Church is like the “inn” of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:34), and is also a home where the sick encounters God’s grace and finds “closeness, acceptance and relief.”
Pope Francis has brought to our attention, that we lack empathy in our approach towards those who are facing all kinds of “grave suffering, incurable and chronic diseases, physiological diseases, situations calling for rehabilitation or palliative care, numerous forms of disability, children’s or geriatric diseases”. The “human warmth and personalized approach of Christ” are very much lacking among the healthcare professionals, workers and volunteers. They need to approach the sick “not just for curing but also for caring” for them with love. We too must give our personalized approach to the sick and to their family members who need our support, comfort and prayers.
The Holy Father recalls two important Encyclicals [cf. Donum Vitae, #5 (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origins and on the Dignity of Procreation issued on 22 February 1987); and Evangelium Vitae, #29-53 – The Gospel of Life issued on 25 March 1995)]. Pope Francis quotes both these Encyclicals which were written by John Paul II and they speak about life being sacred and belonging to God. Furthermore, he adds that life has to be “welcomed, protected, respected and served from its beginning to its end.” He urges that every healthcare professionals should “always strive to promote the dignity and life of each person, and reject any compromise in the direction of euthanasia, assisted suicide or suppression of life, even in the case of terminal illness.”
The Holy Father acknowledged and thanked all the health care workers such as physicians, nurses, medical and administrative, professionals, assistants and volunteers for making “patients feel the presence of Christ who consoles and cares for the sick and heals every hurt.” Sometimes healthcare professionals are unable “to provide care and healing, but gestures and procedures” they may give comfort and relief to the sick.
Many across the world have “no access to medical care because they live in poverty.” The Holy Father urges the “healthcare institutions and government leaders not to neglect social justice out of preoccupation for financial concerns.” He hopes that everyone has access to suitable treatments for preserving and restoring ones’ health. The Holy Father concludes his message by thanking the volunteers who are dedicated to the care of sick, to act with “tender love and closeness” reflecting the image of Christ, the Good Samaritan.
I take my hat off to some of the family members, maids and volunteers who look after their sick members. I too feel saddened when I see the elderly or the sick and the dying left alone, either at home or in nursing homes or hospitals. They need us to embrace and care for them. It is good for us to reflect on the texts from Matthew 25: 35-36, 40 “… I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was stranger, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison…” which remind us that we need to share God’s love, mercy and compassion with those in need of healing in mind and body, spirit and soul.
by Rev Fr George P.