Encouragement on World Day of the Sick
Gospel Reveals Meaning of Suffering, Says John Paul II
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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today's general audience, on World Day of the Sick.
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1. Today we go in thought to the famous Marian Shrine of Lourdes, located in the Pyrenees Mountains, which continues to attract crowds of pilgrims from all over the world, among whom are so many sick people. The principal events of this year's World Day of the Sick are taking place there, an event that, by a now consolidated custom, coincides precisely with the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes.
This shrine was chosen not only because of the intense relation that links it to the world of illness and the agents of health pastoral ministry. Thought was given to Lourdes above all because 2004 marks the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which took place on December 8, 1854. Fours years later, in 1858 in Lourdes, the Virgin Mary, appearing in the Grotto of Massabielle to Bernadette Soubirous, introduced herself as "the Immaculate Conception."
2. We now go in spiritual pilgrimage to the feet of the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes, to participate in the prayer of the clergy and faithful, and especially of the sick gathered there. The World Day of the Sick is a strong call to rediscover the important presence of those who suffer in the Christian community, and to increasingly value their precious contribution. From a simply human point of view, pain and illness might appear as an absurd reality: However, when we allow ourselves to be enlightened by the light of the Gospel, we succeed in appreciating its profound salvific meaning.
"From the paradox of the Cross," I underlined in the message for today's World Day of the Sick, "springs the answer to our most worrying questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon himself the sufferings of everyone and redeems them. Christ suffers with us, enabling us to share our pain with him. United to the suffering of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation" (No. 4).
3. I now turn to all those who are feeling the weight of suffering in body and in spirit. To each of them I renew the expression of my affection and of my spiritual closeness. At the same time, I would like to remind you that human existence is always a gift of God, even when it is marked by physical sufferings of all kinds; a "gift" to be valued by the Church and by the world.
Certainly, whoever suffers must never be left alone. In this connection, I am happy to address a word of profound appreciation to those who, with simplicity and a spirit of service, are by the side of the sick, seeking to relieve their sufferings and, insofar as possible, to free them of illness thanks to the progress of medicine. I am thinking especially of health agents, doctors, nurses, scientists and researchers, as well as hospital chaplains and volunteers. It is a great act of love to take care of those who suffer!
4. "Sub tuum praesidium ...," we prayed at the beginning of our meeting. "We seek refuge under your protection," Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes, who are for us the perfect model of creation according to the original plan of God. To you we entrust the sick, the elderly, persons who are alone: relieve the pain, dry the tears, and obtain for each one the necessary strength to accomplish the divine will.
Be the support of all those who alleviate the pains of brothers every day. And help us all to grow in knowledge of Christ, who with his death and resurrection has defeated the power of evil and death.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the following summary was read in English:]
As we remember the annual observance of the World Day of the Sick, our hearts turn to the famous Marian sanctuary of Lourdes, which continues to draw pilgrims from throughout the world and is the principal location for today's celebration. Kneeling at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes, we are spiritually united with all those who have gathered together in prayer at that holy place.
Believing that those who suffer should never be left alone, he [the Holy Father] offers a word of gratitude to all who with simplicity and a spirit of service assist the sick. He prays that through the intercession of Mary, we may grow in our knowledge of Christ who has forever conquered the power of evil and death.
[The Pope then greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience, especially those from Ireland, Denmark and the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the Lord's blessings of health and joy.