Health Ministry Involves Answering Life's Questions

Cardinal Comments on 16th World Day of the Sick

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By Mirko Testa

ROME, FEB. 10, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The work of health care ministry is more than physically aiding the sick, it also seeks to provide answers about the meaning of life and suffering, says Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry will preside Monday over a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark the 16th World Day of the Sick. This year's theme, chosen by Benedict XVI, is "The Eucharist, Lourdes and the Pastoral Care of the Sick."

In his message written for the celebration, the Pope linked the World Day of the Sick to two other important events taking place this year: the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Lourdes, whose celebrations conclude Dec. 8, and the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, Canada, June 15-22.

Cardinal Barragán told ZENIT the interpretive key to the Holy Father's message is a consideration of the "sacrifice of Christ as the specific bond that unites Mary, consoling mother par excellence, to the world of suffering."

"The only way to free ourselves from suffering," the cardinal said, "is Jesus Christ, who with his cross destroyed death and all the consequences of death, sickness, pain, suffering. It is Christ who takes away all evil, the sin of humanity, he takes sin upon himself for us to the point of dying, and from death there comes the flower of the resurrection."

"The Eucharist is the definitive victory, it is, as Paul VI said in the encyclical ‘Mysterium Fidei,' the ‘medicine of immortality,'" said Cardinal Barragán.

Lifeblood

"The Holy Father," he emphasized, "has invited us on different occasions to make the Eucharist the center. The lifeblood of the Eucharist comforts the suffering, helping them to understand the salvific value of pain, and it gives strength to the pastoral health worker."

"The Eucharist is understood here as viaticum, as pastoral assistance," added 75-year-old cardinal. "In this context, pastoral care of the sick goes beyond mere beneficence, becoming a response to the great questions of life in the light of the Lord's death and resurrection."

"To appropriate those pains that the Lord suffered on the cross and make them a road, a way of resurrection," he continued, "we must enter into Jesus' pain through Eucharistic Communion."

Mary, said the cardinal, is the one who "has incorporated us and fortified us in the suffering of the Lord and who intercedes to help our pains, alleviating and curing them at the same time."

The World Day of the Sick was instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1992. The Pontiff chose Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as the date for the celebration to highlight the Virgin Mary's spiritual nearness to the sick and her singular example in participating in the mystery of the redemption through suffering.

Father Felice Ruffini, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, told ZENIT: "The World Day of the Sick was instituted by the Holy Father John Paul II with the purpose of making the People of God aware -- and in consequence, the many Catholic health institutions and civil society itself -- of the necessity of providing the sick with the best assistance."

This observance, he adds, serves to "help the sick to see the value of suffering, at the human level and above all at the supernatural level; to recall the importance of spiritual and moral formation of health workers and, in the end, to help diocesan priests and religious, but also those who live with the suffering or work alongside them, to better understand the importance of religious assistance of the sick."