MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE TWENTYFIFTH
WORLD DAY OF THE SICK 2017
Amazement at what God has accomplished:
“The Almighty has done great things for me…” (Lk 1:49)
On 11 February, the Twenty-fifth World Day of the Sick will be celebrated throughout the Church and in a special way at Lourdes. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Amazement at what God has accomplished: ‘The Almighty has done great things for me….’” (Lk 1:49). Instituted by my predecessor Saint John Paul II in 1992, and first celebrated at Lourdes on 11 February 1993, this Day is an opportunity to reflect in particular on the needs of the sick and, more generally, of all those who suffer. It is also an occasion for those who generously assist the sick, beginning with family members, health workers and volunteers, to give thanks for their God-given vocation of accompanying our infirm brothers and sisters. This celebration likewise gives the Church renewed spiritual energy for carrying out ever more fully that fundamental part of her mission which includes serving the poor, the infirm, the suffering, the outcast and the marginalized (cf. John Paul II, Motu Proprio Dolentium Hominum, 11 February 1985, 1). Surely, the moments of prayer, the Eucharistic liturgies and the celebrations of the Anointing of the Sick, the sharing with the sick and the bioethical and theological pastoral workshops to be held in Lourdes in those days will make new and significant contributions to that service.
Even now, I am spiritually present at the grotto of Massabielle, before the statue of the Immaculate Virgin, in whom the Almighty has done great things for the redemption of mankind. I express my closeness to all of you, our suffering brothers and sisters, and to your families, as well as my appreciation for all those in different roles of service and in healthcare institutions throughout the world who work with professionalism, responsibility and dedication for your care, treatment and daily wellbeing.
I encourage all of you, the sick, the suffering, physicians, nurses, family members and volunteers, to see in Mary, Health of the Infirm, the sure sign of God’s love for every human being and a model of surrender to his will. May you always find in faith, nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments, the strength needed to love God, even in the experience of illness.
Like Saint Bernadette, we stand beneath the watchful gaze of Mary. The humble maiden of Lourdes tells us that the Virgin, whom she called “the Lovely Lady”, looked at her as one person looks at another. Those simple words describe the fullness of a relationship. Bernadette, poor, illiterate and ill, felt that Mary was looking at her as a person. The Lovely Lady spoke to her with great respect and without condescension. This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and the those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life. They never become simply objects. If at times they appear merely passive, in reality that is never the case.
After her visit to the Grotto, thanks to her prayer, Bernadette turned her frailty into support for others. Thanks to her love, she was able to enrich her neighbours and, above all, to offer her life for the salvation of humanity. The fact that the Lovely Lady asked her to pray for sinners reminds us that the infirm and the suffering desire not only to be healed, but also to live a truly Christian life, even to the point of offering it as authentic missionary disciples of Christ. Mary gave Bernadette the vocation of serving the sick and called her to become a Sister of Charity, a mission that she carried out in so exemplary a way as to become a model for every healthcare worker. Let us ask Mary Immaculate for the grace always to relate to the sick as persons who certainly need assistance, at times even for the simplest of things, but who have a gift of their own to share with others.
The gaze of Mary, Comfort of the Afflicted, brightens the face of the Church in her daily commitment to the suffering and those in need. The precious fruits of this solicitude for the world of suffering and sickness are a reason for gratitude to the Lord Jesus, who out of obedience to the will of the Father became one of us, even enduring death on the cross for the redemption of humanity. The solidarity shown by Christ, the Son of God born of Mary, is the expression of God’s merciful omnipotence, which is made manifest in our life – above all when that life is frail, pain filled, humbled, marginalized and suffering – and fills it with the power of hope that can sustain us and enable us to get up again.
This great wealth of humanity and faith must not be dissipated. Instead, it should inspire us to speak openly of our human weaknesses and to address the challenges of present day healthcare and technology. On this World Day of the Sick, may we find new incentive to work for the growth of a culture of respect for life, health and the environment. May this Day also inspire renewed efforts to defend the integrity and dignity of persons, not least through a correct approach to bioethical issues, the protection of the vulnerable and the protection of the environment.
On this Twenty-fifth World Day of the Sick, I once more offer my prayerful support and encouragement to physicians, nurses, volunteers and all those consecrated men and women committed to serving the sick and those in need. I also embrace the ecclesial and civil institutions working to this end, and the families who take loving care of their sick. I pray that all may be ever joyous signs of the presence of God’s love and imitate the luminous testimony of so many friends of God, including Saint John of God and Saint Camillus de’ Lellis, the patrons of hospitals and healthcare workers, and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, missionary of God’s love.
Dear brothers and sisters – the sick, healthcare workers and volunteers – I ask you to join me in praying to Mary. May her maternal intercession sustain and accompany our faith, and obtain for us from Christ her Son hope along our journey of healing and of health, a sense of fraternity and responsibility, a commitment to integral human development and the joy of feeling gratitude whenever God amazes us by his fidelity and his mercy.
Mary, our Mother, in Christ you welcome each of us as a son or daughter.
Sustain the trusting expectation of our hearts, succour us in our infirmities and sufferings, and guide us to Christ, your Son and our brother.
Help us to entrust ourselves to the Father who accomplishes great things.
With the assurance of a constant remembrance in my prayers, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.
8 December 2016, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
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Lourdes – A Reflection on the First Apparition
On this day, 158 years ago, three young girls set off from the Soubirous family home in Lourdes to look for firewood. “Family home” is misleading; Francois Soubirous was a miller but the family were forced out of their mill and home when the business failed. Unemployed, homeless and destitute they were given refuge in a squalid former prison cell. The family of six lived in one small room, which had been declared unfit for human habitation. It was from such conditions that Bernadette, accompanied by her sister Toinette and a friend, Jeanne Abadie, set off on a cold February morning to find wood for the fire. They followed a canal stream to a point where it passed a small cave or grotto at the base of a cliff, where they expected to find some driftwood.
Toinette and Jeanne Abadie rushed across the stream but Bernadette, conscious of her asthma, hesitated and then returned opposite the cave to remove her sabots (wooden clog-type shoes) and woollen stockings before crossing the stream, when she heard a sound like a gust of wind, yet all was still (compare with the account of The Holy Spirit coming to the Apostles on the first Pentecost – Acts 2: 1-4).
She heard the sound again but this time she noticed the branches of a rose bush moving. The rose was high up on the rock face and behind it in a small recess was what she described as a “a gentle light and a beautiful girl dressed in white who smiled at her and beckoned to her to come closer.” Bernadette, fearful, felt the desire to pray and reached for her rosary but could not make the Sign of the Cross. She was to say later that her arm simply fell back. But when the vision made the Sign of the Cross, Bernadette was able to do the same. All fear left her. Bernadette described what happened next: “I knelt down and said my rosary in the presence of the beautiful lady. The vision fingered the beads of her own rosary, but she did not move her lips. When I finished my rosary, she signed for me to approach; but I did not dare. Then she disappeared, just like that.”
The first apparition was silent; no words were exchanged; no words were necessary. Bernadette was moved to pray in the presence of “the beautiful lady” who followed Bernadette’s prayer with her own rosary. It was enough for Bernadette to be still, to meditate and to turn to familiar prayers.
Let us not be afraid of silence. It is enough for us to be still and acknowledge the sacred presence of God in our lives, to make the Sign of the Cross, as Bernadette did and to greet Our Lady of Lourdes, who always welcomes us.
Picture this scene: the young Bernadette alone and at prayer in front of the Grotto, her eyes drawn to the beautiful Lady before her. Bring to mind the times you have done the same. I doubt you were alone; I doubt there was complete silence; yet despite possible distractions from crowds of people, you may have experienced a silence of the heart and closeness to Our Blessed Lady.
At the wedding feast of Cana there was a problem; they had run out of wine. Mary’s first thought was for the bride and bridegroom, their family and guests – they would be embarrassed, so she turned to Jesus and simply said: “They have no wine.” Jesus said: “Woman. Why turn to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2: 3-5)
We are familiar with the rest of the account; Jesus responded to his mother’s request and turned water into wine. “This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2: 11)
Why did Jesus hesitate? But notice how quickly he responds when his mother says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”
We learn much from this: Mary’s compassion, her concern for others, her gentle persistence, knowing that her son Jesus would respond to their needs. Mary continues to care for each one of us in the same way today.
Meditate on this by praying a decade of the Rosary, the second mystery of Light: Christ’s self-revelation at the marriage at Cana
We conclude our time of prayer with a prayer often used by Bernadette (notice the symbolism of bread – from a miller’s daughter).
O Jesus give me I pray
the bread of humility,
the bread of obedience,
the bread of charity,
the bread of patience to bear the sufferings of my poor heart.
O Jesus you want me to be crucified: Fiat! (*)
Give me the bread of strength to suffer as I ought,
the bread of seeing only you in all things and always.
Jesus, Mary, and the Cross: I want no other friends but these.
* Fiat – meaning: “let it be so” or “an order that must be followed”