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12th World Day of the Sick

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2004
XII Giornata Mondiale del Malato - celebration in Lourdes

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

To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care

1. The World Day of the Sick, an event that annually takes place on a different Continent, this time assumes a singular meaning. Indeed, it will take place in Lourdes, France, the place/locality/town where the Virgin appeared on 11 February 1858, and since then has become the destination of many pilgrimages. Our Lady wanted, In that mountainous region, to manifest her maternal love especially towards the suffering and the sick. Since then, she continues to be present with her constant solicitude.

This Shrine was chosen because in 2004 is the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was, in fact, 8 December 1854 when my Predecessor, Blessed Pius IX of happy memory, with the dogmatic Bull Ineffabilis Deus affirmed to be "revealed by God the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved, through the particular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, free from all stain of original sin from the first instant of her conception" (DS, 2803). At Lourdes Mary, speaking in the local dialect, said: "Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou" [I am the Immaculate Conception].

2. With these words, did not perhaps the Virgin wish to express the link that unites her to health and to life? If through original sin death entered the world, through the merits of Jesus Christ, God preserved Mary from every stain of sin, and salvation and life came to us (cf Rom 5: 12-21).

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception introduces us into the heart of the mystery of Creation and Redemption (cf Eph 1: 4-12; 3: 9-11). God wanted to give to the human creature life in abundance (cf Jn 10: 10), conditioning, however, this his initiative to a free and loving response. By refusing this gift with the disobedience that brought with it sin, man tragically cut off the vital dialogue with the Creator. To the "yes" of God, fount of the fullness of life, is opposed the "no" of man, motivated by proud self-sufficiency, the harbinger of death (cf Rom 5: 19).

Entire humanity was heavily involved in this closure towards God. Only Mary of Nazareth, in anticipation of the merits of Christ, was conceived immune from original sin and totally open to the divine plan, so that the heavenly Father was able to accomplish in her the project that he had for men/mankind.

The Immaculate Conception preluded the harmonious interweaving between the "yes" of God and the "yes" that Mary pronounced with total abandon, when the angel brought the heavenly announcement (cf Lk 1: 38). This her "yes", in the name of humanity, re-opened to the world the doors of Heaven, thanks to the Incarnation of the Verb of God in her womb by the work of the Holy Spirit (cf Lk 1: 35). The original project of creation was thus restored and strengthened in Christ, and in this project is also placed her, the Virgin Mother.

3. Herein lies the keystone of history: with the Immaculate Conception of Mary began the great work of the Redemption, which was actualised/implemented in the precious blood of Christ. In Him every person is called to realise themselves in fullness all the way to the perfection of holiness (cf Col 1: 28).

The Immaculate Conception is, therefore, the promising dawn of the radiant day of Christ, who with his death and resurrection was to restore full harmony between God and humanity. If Jesus is the source of life which conquers death, Mary is the attentive mother who comes to meet the needs of her children, obtaining for them the health of soul and body. This is the message that the Shrine of Lourdes constantly re-proposes to the devout and to pilgrims. This is also the meaning of the corporeal/bodily and spiritual healings that occur at the grotto of Massabielle.

Since the day of the apparition to Bernadette Soubirous, Mary in this place has "healed" pain and sickness, restoring many of her children to health of body. Wonders, however, much more surprising have been worked in the souls of believers, opening their souls to an encounter with her son Jesus, the true answer to the deepest longings of the human heart. The Holy Spirit, who covered her with his shadow at the moment of the Incarnation of the Verb, transforms the souls of countless sick people who turn to her. Even when they do not obtain the gift of bodily health, they can always receive another much more important one: the conversion of heart, fount/source of peace and of interior joy. This gift transforms their existence and renders them apostles of the cross of Christ, banner of hope, even amid the hardest and most difficult trials.

4. In the apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris I observed that suffering belongs to the lived history of man, who must learn to accept and overcome it. But how can he do, if not thanks to the Cross of Christ?

In the death and resurrection of the Redeemer human suffering finds its deepest meaning and its salvific value. All of the weight of humanity's tribulations and pain/sorrows is condensed in the mystery of a God who, assuming our human nature, humbled himself up to be "sin for our sake" (2 Cor 5: 21). On Golgotha He was loaded with the faults of every human creature and, in the solitude of abandonment, he cried out to the Father: "Why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27: 46).

From the paradox of the Cross flows the answer to our most troubling questions. Christ suffers for us: He takes upon himself the suffering of everyone and redeems it. Christ suffers with us, giving us the possibility to share with Him our afflictions. United to the suffering of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation. This is why the believer can say with St Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body which is the Church" (Col 1, 24). Sorrow/pain, accepted with faith, becomes the door to enter into the mystery of the redemptive suffering of the Lord. A suffering that no longer takes away peace and happiness, because it is illuminated by the splendour of the resurrection.

5. At the foot of the Cross Mary suffers in silence, participant in a special way in the afflictions of the Son, becoming mother of humanity, ready to intercede so that every person may obtain salvation (cf Salvifici Doloris, 25).

At Lourdes, it is not difficult to understand this unique participation of Our Lady in the salvific role of Christ. The prodigy of the Immaculate Conception reminds believers of a fundamental truth: it is possible to attain salvation only through participating docilely in the project of the Father, who wanted to redeem the world through the death and resurrection of his only-begotten Son. With Baptism the believer becomes part of this salvific design and is freed from original fault/sin. Sickness and death, while still present in earthly existence, lose their negative sense. In the light of faith, the death of the body, conquered by the death of Christ (cf Rom 6, 4), becomes the required/obligatory passage to the fullness of immortal life.

6. In our time, great progress has been made in the scientific understanding of life, the fundamental gift of God of which we are the administrators. Life is to be welcomed, respected and defended from its beginning all the way/until its natural end. With it is to be protected the family, cradle of every nascent life.

Now "genetic engineering" is (currently) spoken of, alluding to the extraordinary possibility that science today offers to intervene in the very sources of life. Every authentic progress in this field can only be encouraged, provided that it always respects the rights and dignity of the person from the moment of conception. No one, indeed, can arrogarsi/arrogate to himself the faculty to destroy or indiscriminately manipulate the life of the human being. A specific task of workers in the field of Health Pastoral Care is to sensitize those who work in this delicate sector, so that they feel engaged to put themselves always at the service of life.

On the occasion of the World Day of the Sick I wish to thank all of the members of Health Pastoral Care, especially the Bishops from the different episcopal conferences who help in this sector; the chaplains, parish priests and other priests involved in this field; the religious orders and congregations; the volunteers and those who do not tire of offering a consistent witness to the death and resurrection of the Lord in the face of suffering, pain and death.

I would like to extend my gratitude to health-care workers, medical and paramedical personnel, researchers, especially those dedicated to discovering new treatments, and to those responsible for the production of medicines to be made available to the poor.

I entrust everyone to the Most Holy Virgin, venerated at the Shrine of Lourdes in her Immaculate Conception. May she help every Christian to witness that the only authentic response to pain, suffering and death is Christ our Lord, died and risen/who died and rose for us.

With these sentiments, I willingly send to you, Venerable Brother, and to those participating in the celebration of the World Day of the Sick, a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 1 December 2003


Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán's Homily at Mass in Lourdes
on the occasion of the 12th World Day of the Sick
Basilica of St Pius X, Lourdes, France - Wednesday 11 February 2004, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
- in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Though utopias express ardent desires of the heart, they may become dangerous because they remain within the sphere of fantasies and thus estrange us from reality. However, they serve as a stimulus to progress and in their own way reflect the teleological axis of every culture. When an extraordinary utopia becomes an astounding reality, then this utopia which has become "topia" life, naked reality, constitutes in fact the authentic cultural axis that is worthy of being called real universal cultural teleology.

This happened with the death and Resurrection of Christ: culture is life and anti-culture is death. The only goal of culture is life; and when the terror of death hangs over life every day, true culture will consist in finding an antidote for death. Man has always searched for this remedy in every time and place. However, in our days, tired of the search that seemed useless to him, he takes refuge in a paralyzing scepticism that is associated with the epicurism of the predominant economic globalization, in conformity with the maxim of "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die". Inebriated by technological progress, modern man strongly reacts against anything that invites him to raise his head, look beyond the daily routine and focus on the true horizon of life in the historical reality of God-made-man, by the benefit of whom he overcomes death through his Resurrection. If he accepts this horizon, then culture acquires its true meaning in the rich mystery of infinite newness, which sets the virtue of hope as the central driving force of a history that progresses towards an unexpected novelty.

It is exactly with this background that we thought about celebrating the 12th World Day of the Sick in Lourdes, reflecting on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and its relationship to health within the context of the Christian roots of Europe. We therefore intend to renew Health Pastoral Care in the world, especially in Europe, through the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of this Dogma.

In his Message for this World Day of the Sick, which we listened to a little while ago, the Holy Father John Paul II tells us that "the Immaculate Conception foreshadowed the harmonious intertwining of the "yes' of God and the "yes' that Mary would pronounce.... This "yes' of hers on behalf of mankind reopened the doors of Heaven to the world, thanks to the incarnation of the Word of God in her womb through the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1: 35). In this way, the original project of creation was restored and strengthened in Christ, and in this project she, the Virgin Mother, also found a place". "Here is to be encountered the keystone of history: with the Immaculate Conception of Mary began the great work of the Redemption, which was actuated in the Precious Blood of Christ. In him every person is called to fulfil himself or herself to the full perfection of holiness (cf. Col 1: 28). The Immaculate Conception was thus the dawn that promised the radiant day of Christ, who, by his death and Resurrection, would re-establish full harmony between God and mankind. If Jesus is the source of life that defeats death, Mary is the caring mother who meets the hopes of her children by obtaining for them the health of their souls and bodies. This is the message that the sanctuary of Lourdes constantly re-proposes to the devout and to pilgrims. This is also the meaning of the corporeal and spiritual healings that take place in the grotto of Massabielle" (cf Message for the 12th World Day of the Sick, 2-3).

The Christian culture of Europe bears, in its most important elements, the desire to understand nature in its basic constitution and transform it for its own utility; the desire for universal cohabitation, promoted by the objective social organization through appropriate laws; the acknowledgement and respect for creation as a gift of God to man; and as the key factor and only valid teleology of the whole history of humanity, the Incarnation of the Son of God and his salvific death and Resurrection, to which we incorporate ourselves to overcome evil and obtain salvation.

The last two fundamental elements are deeply inculturated in the first two, thus making the sum total of all four the basic root of the European culture. However, we realize at the same time that these are contested in the modern and post-modern society. Above all, the central fact is rejected: that is, Christ as the only salvation and decisive teleology of history and culture.

Amid the negation of Christian transcendence, there is no wonder that health is defined as "a state of perfect physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of illness", ending up in this way in a mere utopia, since this kind of health is but only an illusion.

In the Jubilee Year Message for the World Day of the Sick 2000, Pope John Paul II rather uses a more distinct description. Though he agrees that health does not consist in the mere absence of illness, he does not consider it as a state of perfect well-being. Rather, he defines it as a tension towards harmony which is not only physical, mental and social, but also psychic and spiritual (cf. Jubilee Message for the World Day of the Sick 2000).

In today's Message the Pope speaks to us about the intertwining between the "yes" of God, which he had in the original project for creating man, and the "yes" that Mary pronounces on behalf of all mankind in order to become the Mother of God. It is here that the fullness of the harmony which had been distorted in the past by the first sin of man is realized. The second Adam is then born, the true first man in total harmony with God, Christ the Lord. He is the Son of the second Eve, the true Mother of the living, Mary, in perfect harmony with God from the very moment of her conception: her Immaculate Conception.

This Marian harmony would have to be very painful; it meant the Passion and the Cross together with Christ: it is the sword of pain prophesied by Simeon. True, this was harmony with suffering, but victorious in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ: and this victory meant the Assumption of Mary.

The Immaculate Conception led Mary to the complete harmony and total health in the Assumption, through the painful way of the Cross. In her, the Christian model of true health, which in her Son hung on the Cross and blossomed in the Resurrection, is portrayed. Since then, the right tension towards the only possible harmony is the glorious Cross. We can therefore say that health is not just the absence of illness. Rather, it is the physical, psychic, social and spiritual glorious Cross, which is actually the only acceptable tension towards true harmony. Here the cross is "spiritualized"; or rather, the Holy Spirit, due to his all-powerful love, makes sure that the cross of awful death becomes the glorious Cross, source of life and happiness, of true harmony and true health. "Ubi salus mundi pependit". This joy urges us to procrastinate and to already have the solid hope of resurrection, because the love of the Spirit demands healing as a sign of the Kingdom of God that is already present. This is the significance of the miracles done by Christ, and this is the meaning of the Christian paradigm of health which is the Logo of our Dicastery: the Good Samaritan.

Understanding the Immaculate Conception as fullness of harmony would be returning to the Christian roots of European culture in a truly renewed way. It would also mean understanding Lourdes as a place where God on several occasions grants healing through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, applying the redemption that Christ offers to us. In this way, Lourdes becomes a privileged centre for the New Evangelisation of European culture as a sign of the actual presence of the Kingdom of God, which is harmony, peace and health in the birth of a new community of nations that wants to rise vigorous and abounding, away from the impairment of seeking mere economic interests.

May the Lord Jesus, through the Immaculate Conception of his Mother, grant new vigour to the European culture so that it may embrace the new evangelization which starts from the health in this Sanctuary of Lourdes, in order to truly inculturate the Gospel message in the innermost roots of the New Europe. May health, understood as harmony, peace, joy, happiness, technical, scientific and medical progress that is respectful of human life and used for the benefit of all, be the maternal mantle with which the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, covers her children who venerate her with so much love."

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