|Ministers of the sick: instruments of Christ's
The Holy Father wrote a
Message for the 18th World Day of the Sick, to be celebrated on 11
February 2010. The Day will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the
Institution of the Pontifical Council for Health-Care Workers by Pope
John Paul with the Motu Proprio "Dolentium Hominum" of 11 February 1985.
The following is a translation of Benedict XVI's Message, which was
written in Italian and dated 22 November, released on 3 December.
The 18th World Day of the Sick will be celebrated in the
Vatican Basilica next it February, the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady
of Lourdes. Its felicitous coincidence with the 25th anniversary of the
Institution of the Pontifical Council for Health-Care Workers is another
reason to thank God for the ground covered so far in the sector of the
pastoral care of health. I sincerely hope that this event will be an
opportunity to give a more generous apostolic impetus to the service of
the sick and of those who look after them.
With the annual World Day of the Sick, the Church
intends to carry out a far-reaching operation, raising the ecclesial
community's awareness to the importance of pastoral service in the vast
world of health care. This service is an integral part of the Church's
role since it is engraved in Christ's saving mission itself. He, the
divine Doctor, "went about doing good and healing all that were
oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38). In the mystery of his Passion,
death and Resurrection, human suffering takes on meaning and the
fullness of light.
In his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, the
Servant of God John Paul II offers enlightening words in this regard.
"Human suffering, has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ",
he wrote. "And at the same time it has entered into a completely new
dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love... to that love
which creates good, also drawing it out from evil by means of suffering,
just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from
the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its beginning.
The Cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living
water" (n. 18).
At the Last Supper, before returning to the Father, the
Lord Jesus knelt to wash the Apostles' feet, anticipating the supreme
act of love on the Cross. With this act he invited his disciples to
enter into the same logic of love that is given especially to the
lowliest and to the needy (cf. Jn 13:12-17).
Following his example, every Christian is called to
relive, in different and ever new contexts, the Parable of the Good
Samaritan who, passing by a man whom robbers had left half-dead by the
roadside, "saw him and had compassion, and went to him and bound up his
wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and
brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took
out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of
him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back'"
(cf. Lk 10:33-35).
At the end of the parable, Jesus said: "Go and do
likewise" (Lk 10:37). With these words he is also addressing us. Jesus
exhorts us to bend over the physical and mental wounds of so many of our
brothers and sisters whom we meet on the highways of the world. He helps
us to understand that with God's grace, accepted and lived out in our
daily life, the experience of sickness and suffering can become a school
of hope. In truth, as I said in the Encyclical Spe Salvi, "It is
not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but
rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding
meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love" (n.
The Second Ecumenical Council had already recalled the
Church's important task of caring for human suffering. In the Dogmatic
Constitution Lumen Gentium we read that "Christ was sent by the
Father 'to bring good news to the poor... to heal the contrite of heart'
(Lk 4:18), 'to seek and to save what was lost' (Lk 19:10).... Similarly,
the church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by
human misery and she recognizes in those who are poor and who suffer,
the image of her poor and suffering Founder. She does all in her power
to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ" (n. 8).
The ecclesial community's
humanitarian and spiritual action for the sick and the suffering has
been expressed down the centuries in many forms and health-care
structures, also of an institutional character. I would like here to
recall those directly managed by the dioceses and those born from the
generosity of various religious Institutes. It is a precious "patrimony"
that corresponds with the fact that "love... needs to be organized if it
is to be an ordered service to the community" (Encyclical Deus
Caritas Est, n. 20).
The creation of the
Pontifical Council for Health-Care Workers 25 years ago complies with
the Church's solicitude for the world of health care. And I am anxious
to add that at this moment in history and culture we are feeling even
more acutely the need for an attentive and far-reaching ecclesial
presence beside the sick, as well as a presence in society that can
effectively pass on the Gospel values that safeguard human life in all
its phases, from its conception to its natural end.
I would like here to take
up the Message to the Poor, the Sick, and the Suffering which the
Council Fathers addressed to the world at the end of the Second
Ecumenical Vatican Council: "All of you who feel heavily the weight of
the Cross" they said, "you who weep... you the unknown victims of
suffering, take courage. You are the preferred children of the Kingdom
of God, the Kingdom of hope, happiness, and life. You are the brothers
of the suffering Christ, and with him, if you wish, you are saving the
world" (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, SJ).
I warmly thank those who,
every day, "serve the sick and the suffering", so that "the apostolate
of God's mercy may ever more effectively respond to people's
expectations and needs" (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution
Pastor Bonus, Art. 152).
In this Year for Priests,
my thoughts turn in particular to you, dear priests, "ministers of the
sick ", signs and instruments of Christ's compassion who must reach out
to every person marked by suffering. I ask you, dear presbyters, to
spare no effort in giving them care and comfort. Time spent beside those
who are put to the test may bear fruits of grace for all the other
dimensions of pastoral care.
Lastly I address you, dear
sick people and I ask you to pray and to offer your suffering up for
priests, so that they may continue to be faithful to their vocation and
that their ministry may be rich in spiritual fruits for the benefit of
the whole Church.
With these sentiments, I
implore, for the sick, as well as for all who nurse them, the maternal
protection of Mary Salus Infirmorum, and I wholeheartedly
impart the Apostolic Blessing to all.
From the Vatican, 22
November 2009, Solemnity of Christ the King.