During today's general audience, the Pope joined in spirit the events taking place in the Shrine of Lourdes, in southern France, which on World Day of the Sick attracted a crowd of 30,000 pilgrims.
At the end of the audience held in Paul VI Hall, the Pope addressed special greetings to Polish faithful, saying that "every human being, including those marked by sickness and suffering, is a great gift for the Church and for humanity."
"No one has the right to eliminate this being because of suffering," the Holy Father said. "The latter is a call so that every person who suffers will find, in his own environment, people willing to offer patient support and loving help."
"Suffering is always a call to practice merciful love," were the Pope's last words in Polish.
In his address to the general audience, which he gave in Italian, the Pontiff explained that 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," he observed. "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," the Pope added, "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."
Finally, John Paul II guaranteed his spiritual closeness "to all those who are feeling the weight of suffering in body and in spirit," as well as to all those who are "seeking to relieve their sufferings and, in so far 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," he added.
The celebration of World Day of the Sick culminated in Lourdes with a Mass presided over by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.
The Pope pointed out in his address that the Lourdes shrine was chosen as the focus of World Day of the Sick 2004 since this year marks the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
Four years later, in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, introducing herself as "the Immaculate Conception."