Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, marking the appearances of Our Blessed Mother in 1858 to a young and very poor girl, now known to us as St. Bernadette. For the last number of years, the 11th February has also been celebrated by the Church as the World Day of Prayer for the Sick. Below are some extracts from the letter written by Pope Francis for this year’s feast:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, on 11 February the Twenty-Fifth World Day of the Sick will be celebrated throughout the Church and in a special way at Lourdes. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Amazement at what God has accomplished: ‘The Almighty has done great things for me….’” (Lk 1:49). This Day is an opportunity to reflect in particular on the needs of the sick and, more generally, of all those who suffer. It is also an occasion for those who generously assist the sick, beginning with family members, health workers and volunteers, to give thanks for their God-given vocation of accompanying our infirm brothers and sisters.
Even now, I am spiritually present at the grotto of Lourdes, before the statue of the Immaculate Virgin, in whom the Almighty has done great things for the redemption of mankind. I express my closeness to all of you, our suffering brothers and sisters, and to your families, as well as my appreciation for all those in different roles of service and in healthcare institutions throughout the world who work with professionalism, responsibility and dedication for your care, treatment and daily well-being. I encourage all of you, the sick, the suffering, physicians, nurses, family members and volunteers, to see in Mary, Health of the Infirm, the sure sign of God’s love for every human being and a model of surrender to his will. May you always find in faith, nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments, the strength needed to love God, even in the experience of illness.
Like Saint Bernadette, we stand beneath the watchful gaze of Mary. The humble maiden of Lourdes tells us that the Virgin, whom she called “the Lovely Lady”, looked at her as one person looks at another. Those simple words describe the fullness of a relationship. Bernadette, poor, illiterate and ill, felt that Mary was looking at her as a person. The Lovely Lady spoke to her with great respect and without condescension. This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and the those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life. They never become simply objects. If at times they appear merely
passive, in reality that is never the case.
This great wealth of humanity and faith must not be dissipated. Instead, it should inspire us to speak openly of our human weaknesses and to address the challenges of present-day healthcare and technology. On this World Day of the Sick, may we find new incentive to work for the growth of a culture of respect for life, health and the environment. May this Day also inspire renewed efforts to defend the integrity and dignity of persons, not least through a correct approach to bioethical issues, the protection of the vulnerable and the protection of the environment.
Dear brothers and sisters – the sick, healthcare workers and volunteers – I ask you to join me in praying to Mary. May her maternal intercession sustain and accompany our faith, and obtain for us from Christ her Son hope along our journey of healing and of health, a sense of fraternity and responsibility, a commitment to integral human development and the joy of feeling gratitude whenever God amazes us by his fidelity and his mercy.”
Fr Gerard, CSsR