Pontiff: God Does Not Abandon the Sick

Visits Hospital of the Order of Malta

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By Mirko Testa

ROME, DEC. 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Even in sickness God gives comfort and "the power of his love" to those who abandon themselves to him, says Benedict XVI.

These were the Pope's words on his visit this morning to San Giovanni Battista Hospital of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which for 35 years has been an important center for neurotherapy and the treatment of brain damage.

Presiding at a Mass for the sick and the hospital medical personnel, the Holy Father assured them of his spiritual nearness and invited them "to find support and comfort in Jesus and to never lose their confidence."

"In trials and sickness God mysteriously visits us," the Pontiff said, "and, if we abandon ourselves to his will, we can experience the power of his love."

"Hospitals and places of care for the sick," he added, "precisely because they are inhabited by those who are tried by suffering, can become privileged places where there can be a witness to the Christian love that nourishes hope and awakens possibilities of fraternal solidarity."

In this regard Benedict XVI praised the contribution made by the Order of Malta to the mission of the Church to be near to the suffering and he recalled how, from its beginning in 1113, this lay religious order of the Catholic Church has dedicated itself "to the care of the sick, especially the poor and marginalized."

This was also a priority underscored by the order's grand master, Frà Andrew Bertie, who in greeting the Pontiff spoke of the care of the sick as "the intimate reason for the existence of our ancient institution," which is active today in 120 countries through medical, social and humanitarian initiatives.

"We consider the sick," Bertie added, "the dearest and most precious part of our order's mission."

Patients first

The Holy Father also directed words of appreciation to the Roman hospital itself, calling it "a medical institution of a high technological level," and that thanks to the work of so many physicians and volunteers, "the loving and qualified care of the patients, the guarding of their dignity, and the commitment to improve the quality of their lives is at the center of everyone's concerns."

The Bishop of Rome also took the occasion of his visit to offer his new encyclical, "Spe Salvi," to the Diocese of Rome, with the invitation to study it "to find the reasons for that 'trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present ... even if it is arduous.'"

The Pope encouraged the professionals and volunteers who care for the sick at San Giovanni Battista: "In every sick person, whoever it may be, know how to recognize and serve Christ himself; with your words and deeds help the sick to see [Christ's] merciful love."

Recalling the beginning of the Advent season, the Holy Father invited those present "to welcome the Lord in his unceasing coming to meet us in the events of life, in joy and in pain, in health and in sickness," in view of his "final definitive coming."

"His passage is always a source of peace, if suffering, the legacy of human nature, sometimes becomes almost unbearable," he said, citing "Spe Salvi," "with the coming of the Savior, 'suffering -- without ceasing to be suffering -- becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.'"

San Giovanni Battista Hospital, which for 15 years has been integrated into the National Health Service, specializes in motor neurotherapy, with particular attention to the rehabilitation of post-ictus and post-trauma patients.

The hospital's staff numbers 500 and it has 240 beds.

Before returning to the Vatican, Benedict XVI visited the hospital's ward for patients recovering from comas. The ward was opened in 2000 and is one of the few Italian medical facilities of its kind.

The Order of Malta is composed of 12,500 members and 80,000 permanent volunteers and is assisted by 13,000 physicians, nurses, auxiliaries, paramedics and other workers.