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14th World Day of the Sick

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2006
XIV Giornata Mondiale del Malato - Celebration in Adelaide, Australia

Pope Benedict XVI's Message
- in English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The 14th World Day of the Sick will be celebrated on 11 February 2006, the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. Last year the Day was celebrated at the Marian Shrine of Mvolyé, Yaoundé, and on that occasion the faithful and their Pastors, on behalf of the whole African Continent, reaffirmed their pastoral commitment to the sick. The next World Day of the Sick will be celebrated in Adelaide, Australia, and the events will culminate with a Eucharistic Celebration in the Cathedral dedicated to St Francis Xavier, an unflagging missionary to the peoples of the Orient. On this occasion, the Church intends to bow down over those who suffer with special concern, calling the attention of public opinion to the problems connected with mental disturbance that now afflicts one-fifth of humanity and is a real social-health care emergency. Recalling the attention that my venerable Predecessor John Paul II devoted to this annual event, I too, dear brothers and sisters, would like to be spiritually present on the World Day of the Sick, to pause in order to reflect, in harmony with those taking part, on the situation of the mentally ill in the world and to call for the commitment of Ecclesial Communities to bear witness to the tender mercy of God towards them.

In many countries, legislation in this field does not yet exist and in others, there is no definite mental-health policy. It should then be noted that prolonged armed conflicts in various regions of the world, the succession of terrible natural catastrophes and the spread of terrorism, in addition to causing a shocking number of deaths, has triggered psychological traumas that are sometimes difficult to cure in many survivors. In the economically highly-developed countries, experts then recognize that at the origin of new forms of mental disease we may also find the negative impact of the crisis of moral values. This increases the feeling of loneliness, undermining and even breaking up traditional forms of social cohesion, starting with the family institution, and marginalizing the sick, particularly the mentally ill who are all too often considered as a burden on the family and community. Here I would like to praise those who in different ways and capacities work so that the spirit of solidarity is not lacking and that people persevere in taking care of these brothers and sisters of ours, finding inspiration in human and evangelical ideals and principles.

I therefore encourage the efforts of those who strive to ensure that all mentally ill people are given access to necessary forms of care and treatment. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, services for these sick people are lacking, inadequate or in a state of decay. The social context does not always accept the mentally ill with their limitations, and this is another reason difficulties are encountered in securing the human and financial resources that are needed. One perceives the need to better integrate the two approaches: appropriate therapy and new sensitivity towards disturbance, so as to enable workers in the sector to deal more effectively with these sick people and their families, who would be unable on their own to care adequately for their relatives in difficulty. The next World Day of the Sick is a suitable occasion to express solidarity to families who have mentally ill persons dependent upon them.

I would now like to address you, dear brothers and sisters, tried by illness, to invite you to offer your condition of suffering, together with Christ, to the Father, certain that every trial accepted with resignation is meritorious and draws divine goodness upon the whole of humanity. I express appreciation to those who help and care for you in residential centres, day hospitals and wards providing diagnosis and treatment, and I exhort them to strive to ensure that medical, social and pastoral assistance for those in need is never lacking, respectful of the dignity proper to every human being. The Church, particularly through the work of her chaplains, will not fail to offer you her help, well aware that she is called to express Christ's love and concern for those who suffer and for those who look after them. I commend pastoral workers and voluntary associations and organizations to support in practical ways and through concrete initiatives, those families who have mentally ill people dependent upon them. I hope that the culture of acceptance and sharing will grow and spread to them, thanks also to suitable laws and health-care programmes which provide sufficient resources for their practical application. The training and updating of personnel who work in such a delicate sector of society is more urgent than ever. Every Christian, according to his specific duty and responsibility, is called to make his contribution so that the dignity of these brothers and sisters may be recognized, respected and promoted.

Duc in altum! This invitation of Christ to Peter and the Apostles I address to the Ecclesial Communities spread throughout the world and in a special way to those who are at the service of the sick, so that, with the help of Mary, Salus infirmorum, they will witness to God's goodness and fatherly concern. May the Holy Virgin comfort those who are afflicted by illness and support those who, like the Good Samaritan, soothe their physical and spiritual wounds. I assure each of you that you will be remembered in my prayer, as I willingly impart my Blessing upon you all.

From the Vatican, 8 December 2005, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception


Pope Benedict XVI's address on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
at the end of Holy Mass for the Sick on XIV World Day of the Sick
St Peter's Basilica, Saturday 11 February 2006 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I join you with great joy and I thank you for your warm welcome. I greet you in particular, dear sick people who are gathered here in St Peter's Basilica, and I want to extend my greeting to all the sick who are following us on radio or television, and those for whom this is not possible but who are united with us by the deeper ties of the spirit, in faith and in prayer. I greet Cardinal Camillo Ruini who has presided at the Eucharist, and Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, Archpriest of this Vatican Basilica. I greet the other Bishops and priests present. I thank the National Italian Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines (UNITALSI) and the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, which arranged for and organized this meeting with the help of numerous volunteers. I am also thinking of Australia on the other side of the globe, where Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, presided a few hours ago in Adelaide at the main celebration of the World Day of the Sick.

Fourteen years ago, 11 February, the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, became World Day of the Sick. We all know that the Virgin expressed God's tenderness for the suffering in the Grotto of Massabielle. This tenderness, this loving concern, is felt in an especially lively way in the world precisely on the day of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, re-presenting in the liturgy, and especially in the Eucharist, the mystery of Christ, Redeemer of Man, of whom the Immaculate Virgin is the first fruit. In presenting herself to Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception, Mary Most Holy came to remind the modern world, which was in danger of forgetting it, of the primacy of divine grace which is stronger than sin and death. And so it was that the site of her apparition, the Grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes, became a focal point that attracts the entire People of God, especially those who feel oppressed and suffering in body and spirit. "Come to me all of you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11: 28), Jesus said. In Lourdes he continues to repeat this invitation, with the motherly mediation of Mary, to all those who turn to him with trust.

Dear brothers and sisters, this year, together with my collaborators at the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, we wished to focus attention on people affected by mental illness. "Mental health and human dignity" was the theme of the Congress that has taken place in Adelaide, at which the scientific, ethical and pastoral aspects were also examined. We all know that Jesus stood before man in his wholeness in order to heal him completely, in body, mind and spirit. Indeed, the human person is a unity and his various dimensions can and must be distinguished but not separated. Thus, the Church too always proposes to consider people as such, and this conception qualifies Catholic health-care institutions as well as the approach of the health-care workers employed in them. At this time I am thinking in particular of families with a mentally-ill member who are experiencing the weariness and the various problems that this entails. We feel close to all these situations, especially where legislation is lacking, public structures are inadequate and natural disasters or, unfortunately, wars and armed conflicts are producing in people serious psychological traumas. These are forms of poverty which attract the charity of Christ, the Good Samaritan, and of the Church, indissolubly united with him in her service to suffering humanity.

To all the doctors, nurses and other health-care workers, to all the volunteers involved in this field, I would like today to present symbolically the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in the hope that God's love will always be vibrant in their hearts so that it will enliven their daily work, projects, initiatives and especially their relations with the sick. By acting in the name of charity and in the style of charity, dear friends, you also make a precious contribution to evangelization, for the proclamation of the Gospel needs consistent signs that reinforce it. And these signs speak the language of universal love, a language that is understandable to all.

In a little while, to recreate the spiritual atmosphere of Lourdes, all the lights in the Basilica will be switched off and we will light our candles, symbols of faith and of the ardent invocation of God. The singing of the Ave Maria of Lourdes will invite us to go in spirit to the Grotto of Massabielle, to the feet of the Immaculate Virgin. With profound faith let us present to her our human condition, our illnesses, a sign of neediness that is common to us all as we journey on in this earthly pilgrimage to be saved by her Son Jesus Christ. May Mary keep our hope alive so that, faithful to Christ's teaching, we renew the commitment to relieving our brethren in their sickness. May the Lord ensure that no one is alone or abandoned in a time of need, but, on the contrary, can live illness too in accordance with human dignity. With these sentiments, I wholeheartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all: sick people, health-care workers and volunteers."

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán's Homily at Mass in Adelaide
on the occasion of the 14th World Day of the Sick
Adelaide Cathedral, Australia - Saturday 11 February 2006, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, in particular His Grace Archbishop Philip Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide:  I convey to you the most fervent greetings of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI. The Holy Father asked me to bring his warmest greetings to all of you, dear Priests, Religious Sisters and Brothers participating in this memorable liturgical celebration, to all health-care professionals here present, to all the People of God gathered in this beautiful Cathedral, and to all the people of this great Continent of Oceania which embraces Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.

This celebration of the World Day of the Sick places the mentally-ill people at the centre of our attention. As we heard from his Letter, the Holy Father reserves a special attention to the mentally-sick people. And as a sign of his deep concern for the well-being of these sick people, the Holy Father has on this occasion granted a Plenary Indulgence to all those who participate in this celebration here in Adelaide, and in similar celebrations around the world. In this special way, the Pope accompanies the mentally-ill people with his friendship, closeness and efficient spiritual help.

Mental illness is alas growing very fast in the world. It is reported that there are about 500 million people with mental disturbances.

The are many and varied causes at the origin of the illness:  among the most important we find the negation of God and ethical-religious relativism, the crisis of reference values, hedonism and materialism, the technological culture closed in on itself, the exasperation of desires produced by this culture, the pursuit of the impossible, the religious and cultural conflict and the magic ritualism of several religious sects.

As major risk situations, one notes the precarious means of subsistence, work, formation and education, the lack of help networks, alienation of human rights, exclusion and marginalization, terrorism and wars, lack of the education of sentimental life, the process of alienation of reality, the negative conditions of the environmental, lack of social protection, corruption, inequality between the male and female roles, absence of parents, separation and divorce, loss of the value of the marriage institution, lack of communication and time to stay together in the family, immaturity of the father and mother figures, the undue delegation of parents' responsibility to third persons or institutes, the weakness of the life project, the inadequate preparation for married life, conflicts between parents and their children and the aggressive and violent behaviour.

According to the indications of the Holy Father, both in the letter referred to above and in the Message for this World Day of the Sick, we must in our approaches underline the inviolable dignity of the mentally-ill people and do everything possible to protect it at the cultural, institutional, family and individual levels.

At the cultural level, protecting the inviolable dignity of the mentally ill means going to the root of the problem. It means attending to the system of values. Since mental illness is a disequilibrium, any distortion in the system of values that sustain a person generates personal disequilibrium. In a simple paradigm of reference assumed by contemporary global ethics, which is produced by mere consensus of the majority, we cannot arrive at the desired equilibrium. The reason is that this paradigm must always change according to the mutability of the majority consensus. It is well-known that this consensus easily changes and is often manipulated by the mass media. Instead, we need a firm and balanced system founded on an objective ethics. This ethics must be rooted in the satisfaction of the person's true necessities and not determined by the whim of desires. This objective ethics is in the heart of each person and leads one to insert himself in a vital and creative order that improves it day by day.

Since due to the disorderly presentation of the fundamental drives this order is sometimes not very clear in the heart, there is need for a further enlightenment that helps to lead the personality towards a true satisfaction of one's necessities. We Christians know that this enlightenment is the divine Revelation, which we receive gratuitously from God. The Holy Father exhorts the leaders of different religions in the world to protect the mentally-ill people. One profound way of doing this is by strengthening the above-mentioned system of values, especially in front of the present growing secularization. As we said already, in this secularization the only remaining support for a personal life is the changing ethical paradigm, whose instability is determined by the frequently manipulated consensus of the majority.

Mental-health professionals have an important role to play here. Above all, something they must take as fundamental to the exercise of their profession is having the best possible psychic equilibrium, and therefore they must be firmly anchored in an objective system of values. Mental illness in a particular way involves the whole person, and in a large proportion its cure does not depend on drugs alone, but on the personal relationship between the patient and the healer. The dependence of the mentally-ill person on the health professional is particularly strong; therefore, any disequilibrium affecting the health professional disqualifies him as such, because his profession is directed to achieve the equilibrium of the patient.

The Holy Father also recommended that I exhort government leaders to protect the dignity of the mentally-ill people. We hope that we have now exceeded the dehumanizing practices used in the past in the treatment of mentally-sick persons. They were cruel methods that absolutely ignored the dignity of the mentally ill, who were often treated as if they were not human beings. We also hope that the practice in some countries of classifying those with a different political opinion as insane, is something of the past. In order to institutionally protect the dignity of the mentally-sick people, according to the development and proven achievements of psychiatric medicine, it is necessary that appropriate legislation be promoted and applied all over the world, especially regarding the hospitalization of mentally-sick people.

Since one of the prime causes of psychological imbalance is the family disequilibrium, the protection of the dignity of the mentally-sick person should have its cradle in the family itself. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world we observe today the disintegration of the family. We must insist on a programme for the stability of the family, which ought to proceed from a serious, adequate and profound preparation for marriage. We have to strengthen the family. There is need to achieve in the family a serene, realistic, joyful and loving understanding between spouses, their children, relatives and the extended family, and the community in which they live. Consolidating a total and indissoluble stability of the marriage will provide the right equilibrium that will be the best prevention for mental illness of a family member.

For us Christians, it is obvious that the true sense of life is only Christ, dead and risen, and at the centre of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, who led Christ through the redemptive death, and with Christ leads all of us to our Heavenly Father. In this World Day of the Sick we have the opportunity to proclaim that at the centre of prevention and care of the mentally-ill person there is Love. Only with the loving understanding of the Holy Spirit that "heals who is sick", can we prevent any mental disequilibrium and heal it when it presents itself. It is truly a crucified love, because it makes us identify with the disequilibrium in order to balance it. With the Holy Spirit we reach the equilibrium of the Cross of Christ. It is very painful, but it is the only way to the Resurrection. It is only with this kind of Love that we can come out of the obscure tunnel of mental illness.

In this regard Pope Benedict XVI, in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, says:  "The Spirit, in fact, is that interior power which harmonizes [the hearts of the believers] with Christ's heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them, when he bent down to wash the feet of the disciples (cf. Jn 13: 1-13) and above all when he gave his life for us (cf. Jn 13: 1, 15: 13).

The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the Ecclesial Community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son" (n. 19).

In fact, "Individuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent:  they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care. Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church's charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a "formation of the heart':  they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5: 6)" (ibid., n. 31).

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Salus infirmorum. When a mentally-sick person feels the affectionate maternal hand of Our Lady that helps and protects him, the world ceases to be hostile for him, he feels himself sure and full of happiness. Today, we implore Our Mother Mary, health of the sick, to place all mentally-ill people in the world under her maternal protection, so that she may console them, enliven them, give them confidence and trust, strength and happiness. May she confirm us in an outstanding fraternal solidarity with our afflicted brothers and sisters who unite with the suffering Christ in the depth of their souls.

Finally, it is my pleasure to assure all of you of the Blessing of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who, though in the Vatican, is spiritually present, united in prayer with us in this beautiful Cathedral of St Francis Xavier, of the Archdiocese of Adelaide in Australia, and in this wonderful Continent of Oceania."

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