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11th World Day of the Sick

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2003
XI Giornata Mondiale del Malato - celebration at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC, USA

Pope St John Paul II's Message
- in English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world . . . We know and believe the love God has for us" (1 Jn 4: 14,16).

These words of the apostle John are a good summary of what the Church seeks to do through her pastoral work in the area of health care. Recognizing the presence of the Lord in our suffering brothers and sisters, she strives to bring them the good news of the Gospel and to offer them authentic signs of love.

This is the context of the Eleventh World Day of the Sick, which will take place on February 11, 2003 in Washington, D.C., in the United States, at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The choice of place and day invites the faithful to turn their hearts and minds to the Mother of the Lord. The Church, entrusting herself to our Lady, is inspired to bear renewed witness to charity, in order to be a living icon of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, in the numberless situations of physical and moral suffering in the world today.

Urgent questions about suffering and death, dramatically present in the heart of every person despite the continual attempts by a secular mentality to remove them or ignore them, await satisfactory answers. Especially in the presence of tragic human experiences, the Christian is called to bear witness to the consoling truth of the Risen Lord, who takes upon himself the wounds and ills of humanity, including death itself, and transforms them into occasions of grace and life. This proclamation and this witness are to be delivered to everyone, in every corner of the world.

2. Through the celebration of this World Day of the Sick, may the Gospel of life and love resound loudly, especially in the Americas, where more than half the world’s Catholics live. On the continents of North and South America, as elsewhere in the world, «a model of society appears to be emerging in which the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless: I am thinking here of unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurable ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism. Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty . . . This model of society bears the stamp of the culture of death, and is therefore in opposition to the Gospel message» (Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia In America, 63). Faced with this worrying fact, how can we fail to include the defence of the culture of life among our pastoral priorities? Catholics working in the field of health care have the urgent task of doing all they can to defend life when it is most seriously threatened and to act with a conscience correctly formed according to the teaching of the Church.

The numerous health care facilities through which the Catholic Church offers a genuine testimony of faith, charity and hope are already contributing in an encouraging way to this noble goal. Hitherto these facilities have been able to rely on a significant number of men and women religious who guarantee a high standard of professional and pastoral service. I hope that a fresh flourishing of vocations will enable Religious Institutes to continue their meritorious work and indeed to expand it with the support of many lay volunteers, for the good of suffering humanity in the Americas.

3. This privileged apostolate involves all local Churches. It is therefore necessary that every Episcopal Conference, through appropriate structures, should seek to promote, guide and coordinate the pastoral care of the sick, so that the whole People of God become aware of and sensitive to the many different needs of the suffering.

In order to make this witness of love practical, those involved in the pastoral care of the sick must act in full communion among themselves and with their Bishops. This is of particular importance in Catholic hospitals, which in responding to modern needs are called upon to reflect ever more clearly in their policies the values of the Gospel, as the Magisterium’s social and moral guidelines insist. This requires united involvement on the part of Catholic hospitals in every sector, including that of finance and administration.

Catholic hospitals should be centres of life and hope which promote — together with chaplaincies — ethics committees, training programmes for lay health workers, personal and compassionate care of the sick, attention to the needs of their families and a particular sensitivity to the poor and the marginalized. Professional work should be done in a genuine witness to charity, bearing in mind that life is a gift from God, and man merely its steward and guardian.

4. This truth should be continuously repeated in the context of scientific progress and advances in medical techniques which seek to assist and improve the quality of human life. Indeed, it remains a fundamental precept that life is to protected and defended, from its conception to its natural end.

As I stated in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, «The service of humanity leads us to insist, in season and out of season, that those using the latest advances of science, especially in the field of biotechnology, must never disregard fundamental ethical requirements by invoking a questionable solidarity which eventually leads to discriminating between one life and another and ignoring the dignity which belongs to every human being» (No. 51).

The Church, which is open to genuine scientific and technological progress, values the effort and sacrifice of those who with dedication and professionalism help to improve the quality of the service rendered to the sick, respecting their inviolable dignity. Every therapeutic procedure, all experimentation and every transplant must take into account this fundamental truth. Thus it is never licit to kill one human being in order to save another. And while palliative treatment in the final stage of life can be encouraged, avoiding a «treatment at all costs» mentality, it will never be permissible to resort to actions or omissions which by their nature or in the intention of the person acting are designed to bring about death.

5. My earnest hope for this Eleventh World Day of the Sick is that it will inspire in Dioceses and parishes a renewed commitment to the pastoral care of the sick. Proper attention must be given to the sick who remain at home, given that less and less time is actually being spent in hospital and the sick are often being entrusted to their own families. In countries without adequate health care facilities, even the terminally ill are left at home. Parish priests and all pastoral workers must be vigilant and ensure that the sick never lack the consoling presence of the Lord through the word of God and the Sacraments.

Proper attention should be given to the pastoral aspect of health care in the formation of priests and religious. For it is in care for the sick more than in any other way that love is made concrete and a witness of hope in the Resurrection is offered.

6. Dearest chaplains, religious, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, administrative personnel, social assistants and volunteers: the World Day of the Sick offers a special opportunity to strive to be ever more generous disciples of Christ the Good Samaritan. Be aware of your identity and learn to recognize in those who suffer the Face of the sorrowful and glorious Lord. Be ready to bring help and hope especially to those afflicted with new diseases, such as AIDS, and with older diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria and leprosy.

And you, dearest Brothers and Sisters who suffer in body or spirit, to you I express my heartfelt hope that you will learn to recognize and welcome the Lord who calls you to be witnesses to the Gospel of suffering, by looking with trust and love upon the Face of Christ Crucified (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 16) and by uniting your sufferings to his.

I entrust you all to the Immaculate Virgin, our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and Health of the Sick. May she hear the prayers that rise from the world of suffering, may she dry the tears of those in pain, may she stand beside those who are alone in their illness, and by her motherly intercession may she help believers who work in the field of health care to be credible witnesses to Christ’s love.

To each of you I affectionately impart my Blessing!

From the Vatican, 2 February 2003, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord


Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán's Homily at Mass in Washington
on the occasion of the 11th World Day of the Sick
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, USA - 11 February 2004, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
- in English, French & Italian

"Your Eminences, Excellencies, dear priests and religious sisters, Brothers and Sisters,

It is for me a great honor to represent the Holy Father John Paul II in this 11th World Day of the Sick. It is my duty to bring to you His blessings and greetings. His living testimony of pain and joy, reflect the painful and joyful face of Christ and give us the courage to overcome illness as well as death, through the solid hope of the resurrection, and to proclaim together with the Pope the Gospel of Life.

May I extend my cordial greetings to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the United States, and to the other 23 Conferences of Bishops of the American Countries, represented here at this memorable celebration of the 11th World Day of the Sick. The World Day of the Sick obviously concerns the whole world, but the choice to celebrate it in America, corresponds to the expressed desire of the Pope to have it every year on a different continent. This year, it was America's turn, and it marks the second celebration in America, since the first one was 7 years ago at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City.

In agreement with the Holy Father, we had proposed to celebrate it either in Argentina or in the United States. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the United States warmly accepted the proposal and made all the necessary arrangements for the celebration. We particularly thank Bishop Fiorenza, former President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the United States, and Bishop Gregory, the current President, both of whom worked with great enthusiasm for the realization of this event. Our greetings and very special thanks go to the Archdiocese of Washington and her worthy and dynamic Pastor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Together with his team, under the direction of Fr Michael Place, president of Catholic Health Association of the United States of American, and Dr Jane Belford, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, they shouldered the great and hard work of making the project of the 11th World Day of the Sick a reality. I would like to convey to Your Eminence and your team, the sincere and heartfelt thanks, both of the Holy Father and the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

May I also cordially greet all of you, priests, religious sisters, who are particularly involved in the Health Care Ministry, all health professionals, workers, volunteers of all America, and all of you my dear sisters and brothers present at this National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is a great honor to be with you working together for the good of our brothers and sisters, who are suffering under all kinds of sorrow, and for the good of the entire world plagued by suffering and pain, which often remind us of the reality of death. You, as an active part of the Church, are always engaged in finding adequate answers to great and important problems of mankind, namely: illness, pain, suffering, all kinds of evil, and death. Our world often neglects those problems and wishes to cover them up with a smoke-screen, or simply hide them. We are here to face them courageously and offer effective solutions. This is the ministry of the Church; this is the meaning of redemption and salvation. The Pontifical Council looks at the core of the problem and offers its collaboration in the effort of finding lasting solutions, through its specific task of Pastoral Health Care.

In this year's message for the World Day of the Sick, the Pope opens with a quotation from the first Letter of St John, where the Apostle tells us that: "We ourselves have seen and testify that the Father sent His Son, as Savior of the World ... and we have recognized ourselves and believe in the Love God has for us" (I Jn 4,14-16).

We are therefore, celebrating the World Day of the Sick under the sign of love. However, this celebration is not only a commemoration or an occasion to remember that all people must be compassionate towards the suffering world; that would be good, but still wanting. We have the power, not only to be compassionate, but also effectively to take away the sorrow and the anguish of this world. This is exactly our task in the liturgical celebration of the 11th World Day of the Sick. In the Holy Mass we have the experience of the whole of salvation.

According to our faith, here in the holy Sacrifice we offer to the world the only true solution to evil; in a word, the only solution to death. We don't hide death or minimize it; we know it as the greatest evil there is, but in the reality of the Mass as memorial of the Lord's Death and Resurrection, death becomes a fountain of life and happiness.

Today we often speak of the quality of life. In the Eucharist our life receives its true quality; here we find the authentic quality of life. Our quality of life consists in breaking through the dark limits of death and acquiring a life forever. The true quality of life ensues from our participation in the mystery of Christ, enabling us to be a reflection of the face of Christ, joyful and sorrowful at the same time. It is the victory of the paradox: The victory over death through the same death. In the Easter Liturgy we sing: "Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal" (Sequence of the Easter Sunday and the Octave).

In the mystery of faith and charity, Christ takes our sorrows and converts them into happiness; but the condition is that we must fervently awaken the virtue of hope. In this way, we become members of the Body of Christ, and the whole Church with her head, Christ, assumes the death of mankind and converts it into resurrection. This exactly constitutes Health Pastoral Care. This is the all-powerful love of God that from the "guilty nothing" of humanity on the cross creates again the new humanity in the full life of the resurrection of Christ.

If we ask ourselves about the identity of Catholic Health Pastoral Care, this paradox is the distinguishing mark for the Institutions and people that wish to be considered as Catholic health care professionals or workers.

The last hurdle is death, which causes trouble and disharmony. If death is destroyed we will have harmony and peace. By destroying death we will foster life and health. We will have life because harmony builds unity, and life is unity while death is disintegration. This is the reason why health is a tension towards harmony. So health pastoral care or ministry is a way of achieving harmony, unity, peace, life and health.

The way that leads to harmony is a long one. It means following the footsteps of Christ in building the human person. Therefore, the rule of Health Care Ministry is the continuous building of the person. In this way we can enunciate the main principle of Christian ethics What builds man is good, what destroys him is bad. As I said before, the paradox is that the only way by which death could build the human person is by accepting it and being with Christ on the cross. This is the only way, through which death can be converted into a fountain of life and resurrection.

Therefore, because through this Eucharistic Memorial on the 11th World Day of the Sick, we are in communion with Christ who died and rose, we are gathered here not just to awaken in us sentiments of compassion for suffering mankind, but to give the world the only way to overcome its sorrows, pains and sufferings. This is the mystery we are celebrating in the Eucharist and in the Anointing of the Sick that we will soon celebrate.

We are celebrating the World Day of the Sick on the day commemorating the apparitions of Our Lady in Lourdes; in those apparitions she said, she was the Immaculate Conception ("Soy era la Inmaculada Concepcion"). And we are gathered here at the National Shrine of the United States, properly dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This is a very appropriate setting for the meaning of our celebration.

In fact, the Immaculate Conception means the beginning of the creation of the perfect woman, Mary, whom God had in His eternal plan. In virtue of the grace of Christ, she is the model of human harmony, unity, life and health. Because of Her Immaculate Conception, her harmony is due to the full reception of the love of the Holy Spirit. May she pray for us, so that we may receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the strength of the resurrection of Christ. The love of the Holy Spirit gives us the unique capacity to believe, to overcome the paradox of death and to communicate with Christ, the only way to obtain the true health. So we ask Mary, because of Her Immaculate Conception, to pray for us, that we may lavishly receive the Holy Spirit, to help us give to the world a credible testimony of how to overcome death and obtain the true health. With the love of the Spirit and the intercession of Mary, we will understand better that only with faith, charity and hope can we overcome death and obtain true health. In this way, we can arrive at the root of all life and have the solid conviction that only love is credible."

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