Before praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square today, the Pope noted that the World Day events, which culminate Wednesday, will have as their center the Marian shrine at Lourdes in France.
This year the World Day is also celebrating the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
"The close link is noted that exists between Our Lady of Lourdes and the world of suffering and illness," the Holy Father said. "In the shrine that arises near the grotto of Massabielle, the sick are always the protagonists and, in the course of the years, Lourdes has become a genuine bastion of life and hope."
He continued: "The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, in fact, the first fruit of the redemption accomplished by Christ and the pledge of his victory over evil. That spring of water gushing from the earth, which the Virgin invited Bernadette to drink, brings to mind the power of the Spirit of Christ, which heals man completely and gives him eternal life."
Finally, the Pope commended to the Blessed Virgin the events taking place in Lourdes over the next few days.
The observance of World Day of the Sick will begin Monday, when representatives of episcopal conferences will meet to promote and renew health-care ministry in Europe.
An international meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, for theological reflection on bioethical issues and on "the special relation between the Immaculate Virgin and the sick," as the Pope said during the Angelus.
The celebrations will culminate in Lourdes on Wednesday with a concelebrated Mass presided over by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, and John Paul II's special envoy to the event.
The World Day of the Sick is observed every Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, under the auspices of the pontifical council.