Life is worth living
even amid the mystery of suffering
The following is a
translation of the Holy Father's Message for the 17th World Day of the
Sick that will be celebrated in all Catholic dioceses and parishes on
Wednesday, 11 February 2009. Pope John Paul II established this Annual
World Day on 13 May 1992 in a Letter to Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, then
President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care. Pope
Benedict XVI's Message is dated 2 February 2009 and was written in
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The World Day of the Sick,
which will be celebrated next 11 February, the liturgical Memorial of
Our Lady of Lourdes, will see the diocesan communities gathering with
their Bishops at prayer meetings in order to reflect and decide on
initiatives of sensitization concerning the reality of suffering.
The Pauline Year that we
are celebrating is a favourable opportunity to pause and meditate with
the Apostle Paul on the fact that "as we share abundantly in Christ's
sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" ( 2
The spiritual connection
with Lourdes also calls to mind the motherly concern of the Mother of
Jesus for the brethren of her Son, "who still journey on earth
surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their
blessed home" (Lumen
gentium, n. 62).
This year our attention
focuses in particular on children, the weakest and most defenceless
creatures, and on those of them who are sick and suffering. There are
tiny human beings who bear in their bodies the consequences of
incapacitating diseases, and others who are fighting illnesses that are
still incurable today, despite the progress of medicine and the
assistance of qualified researchers and health-care professionals.
There are children injured
in body and in mind, subsequent to conflicts and wars, and other
innocent victims of the insensate hatred of adults. There are "street"
children, who are deprived of the warmth of a family and left to
themselves, and minors defiled by degenerate people who violate their
innocence, causing them psychological damage that will mark them for the
rest of their lives.
Then we cannot forget the
incalculable number of minors who die of thirst, hunger and the lack of
medical help, as well as the small exiles and refugees who flee from
their countries together with their parents in search of a better life.
A silent cry of pain rises from all these children which questions our
consciences as human beings and believers.
The Christian community,
which cannot remain indifferent to such tragic situations, feels the
impelling duty to intervene. Indeed, as I wrote in the encyclical
Deus Caritas est, the Church "is God's family in the world. In this
family no one ought to go without the necessities of life" (n. 25,b).
I therefore hope that the
World Day of the Sick will offer the parish and diocesan communities an
opportunity to be ever more aware that they are the "family of God" and
will encourage them to make the love of the Lord, who asks that "within
the ecclesial family no member should suffer through being in need",
visible in villages, neighbourhoods and cities
The witness of charity is
part of the very life of every Christian community. And from the outset
the Church has expressed the Gospel principles in practical gestures, as
we read in the Acts of the Apostles.
Today, given the changed
conditions of health-care assistance, people are feeling the need for
closer collaboration between health-care professionals who work in the
various health-care institutions and the ecclesial communities present
in the territory. In this perspective the value of an institution linked
to the Holy See such as the Bambino Gesù.
this year celebrating its 140th anniversary
is confirmed in every way.
But this is not all. Since
the sick child belongs to a family that frequently shares in his or her
suffering with serious hardship and difficulties, Christian communities
cannot but also feel duty-bound to help families afflicted by the
illness of a son or daughter.
After the example of the
"Good Samaritan", it is necessary to bend over the people so harshly
tried and offer them the support of their concrete solidarity.
In this way the acceptance
and sharing of suffering is expressed in the practical support of sick
children's families, creating in them an atmosphere of serenity and hope
and making them feel that they are in the midst of a larger family of
brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jesus' compassion for the
widow of Nain (cf. Lk 7:12-17) and for Jairus' supplication (cf. Lk
8:41-56) constitute, among others, useful reference points for learning
to share in the moments of physical and moral suffering of the many
sorely tried families.
All this implies
disinterested and generous love, a reflection and a sign of the merciful
love of God who never abandons his children in trial but always provides
them anew with wonderful resources of heart and mind to equip them to
face life's difficulties adequately.
The daily devotion and
continuous commitment to serving sick children is an eloquent testimony
of love for human life, particularly for the life of those who are weak
and dependant on others in all things and for all things.
In fact, it is necessary to
assert vigorously the absolute and supreme dignity of every human
life. The teaching that the Church ceaselessly proclaims does not
change with the passing of time: human life is beautiful and should be
lived to the full, even when it is weak and enveloped in the mystery of
We must turn out gaze to
the Crucified Jesus: in dying on the Cross he wished to share in the
suffering of all humanity. We may discern in his suffering for love a
supreme sharing in the plight of little ones who are ill and of their
My venerable Predecessor
John Paul II who offered a shining example of patient acceptance of
suffering, particularly towards the end of his life, wrote: "On this
Cross is the 'Redeemer of man', the Man of Sorrows, who has taken upon
himself the physical and moral sufferings of the people of all times, so
that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and
valid answers to all of their questions" (Salvifici doloris, n.
I would like here to
express my appreciation and encouragement to the international and
national organizations which care for sick children, especially in the
poor countries, and which with generosity and abnegation make their
contribution to assuring them adequate and loving care.
At the same time, I address
a heartfelt appeal to the leaders of nations that they will strengthen
the laws and provisions for sick children and their families. For her
part, the Church
always, but especially when a child's life is at stake
is prepared to offer cordial collaboration with the intention of
transforming the whole human civilization into a "civilization of love"
(Salvifici doloris, n. 30).
To conclude, I would like
to express my spiritual closeness to all of you, dear brothers and
sisters who are suffering from an illness. I address an affectionate
greeting to all those who assist you: the Bishops, priests, consecrated
people, health-care workers, volunteers and all who devote themselves
lovingly to treating and alleviating the sufferings of those who are
grappling with illness.
Here is a special greeting
for you, dear sick and suffering children: the Pope embraces you with
fatherly affection together with your parents and relatives, and assures
you of his special remembrance in prayer, as he asks you to trust in the
maternal help of the Immaculate Virgin Mary who last Christmas we once
again contemplated joyfully holding in her arms the Son of God who
became a Child. As I invoke upon you and upon every sick person the
motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin, Health of the Sick, I
cordially impart to all a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 2