Cardinal: There's Nothing More Feared Than Pain

Reflects on the Meaning of Death and Suffering

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, FEB. 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- There is nothing more certain in this world than death, yet there is nothing so feared as illness, pain and suffering.

This was the thesis of the address given this week by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, to the conference held in the Vatican to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

The conference, which ended Thursday, was titled "The Church at the Service of Love for the Suffering."

In his address on the meaning of pain and suffering in the contemporary world, the cardinal noted that the terms are as "two sisters who call one another and go hand in hand." Death, he added, is "the consummation of suffering."

Cardinal Comastri illustrated with some examples and statistics how the contemporary mentality increasingly seeks comfort and shuns pain and inevitable death.
 
He asked: "Why so much silence about the problem of death? Why is there so much fear of death, which is an unavoidable step for every person that is born? And, as a consequence, why is there so much fear of sickness and suffering?"
 
Death, the cardinal affirmed, "brings down the false vision of life which has taken possession of men in the 20th century."

Sartre

He took advantage of the occasion to allude to French thinker Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), who said, "Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance."
 
"Let's open our eyes!" he exhorted. "And let's make young people open their eyes who, as butterflies, spin around the false lights of modernity and fall inside, dying and dying foolishly!"
 
"We cannot accept the solution of nihilism," he stated, "the solution that thinks that man comes from nothing and returns to nothing. [...] The consumer civilization only wants consumers, mouths that eat, bodies that seek sensations, but do not seek any meaning -- no meaning in their lives."
 
However, in the human heart there is always the possibility of nostalgia for the meaning of living, of suffering and of dying, he added. "We must know that this drama exists: the drama of a culture that has rejected God and that does not repent of this rejection, but perceives that it has a feeling of emptiness."
 
Cardinal Comastri recalled the testimony from the 1970s of an Italian youth known as Ricciardetto, who said, when he learned that he was suffering from a terminal illness: "If I had the consolation of faith I could take refuge in it and I would find in it the necessary resignation. But sadly, I lost my faith a long time ago."
 
And giving a recent example, the cardinal mentioned the young Venerable Benedetta Bianchi Porro, who died at 27 in 1964, after enduring a slow and prolonged paralysis of her body. "In the abyss of pain Benedetta met Jesus and her pain became a 'place' where hope and above all charity lived," pointed out the cardinal.
 
Benedetta began to evangelize through letters; she wrote to people who were living her same situation: "this is the wonderful news that Benedetta cries out with her moving story: God dwells also in pain; hence, pain is no longer pain, it is no longer the cause of despair, it is no longer without meaning."