POPE’S JANUARY PRAYER INTENTION: FOR THOSE WHO SUFFER RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION
Pope Francis dedicates his first prayer message of 2022 to combatting religious discrimination and persecution, reminding us that religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship, but is tied to fraternity. Click here for text and video: Pope’s January prayer intention: For those who suffer religious persecution – Vatican News
“BE MERCIFUL, EVEN AS YOUR FATHER IS MERCIFUL”
Pope Francis’ Message for the 30th World Day of the Sick, celebrated annually on February 11, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, was released today by the Vatican. It is entitled, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful: (Lk 6:36). Standing beside those who suffer on a path of charity.”
Francis starts by noting that, “Thirty years ago, Saint John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick to encourage the people of God, Catholic health institutions and civil society to be increasingly attentive to the sick and to those who care for them.
He wrote, “May the Thirtieth World Day of the Sick – whose closing celebration, due to the pandemic, will not take place as planned in Arequipa, Peru, but in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican – help us grow in closeness and service to the sick and to their families.” (photo is from Vatican media taken during July 2021 hospital stay of Pope Francis)
The Holy Father underscores that, “the theme chosen for this Thirtieth World Day of the Sick, ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’ (Lk 6:36), makes us first turn our gaze towards God, who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4); he always watches over his children with a father’s love, even when they turn away from him. Mercy is God’s name par excellence; mercy, understood not as an occasional sentimental feeling but as an ever-present and active force, expresses God’s very nature. It combines strength and tenderness. … God cares for us with the strength of a father and the tenderness of a mother; he unceasingly desires to give us new life in the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis comments, “How often do the Gospels relate Jesus’ encounters with people suffering from various diseases! … We do well to ask ourselves why Jesus showed such great concern for the sick, so much so that he made it paramount in the mission of the apostles, who were sent by the Master to proclaim the Gospel and to heal the sick.”
He answers: “One 20th-century philosopher suggests a reason for this: ‘Pain isolates in an absolute way, and absolute isolation gives rise to the need to appeal to the other, to call out to the other’…. How can we forget, in this regard, all those patients who, during this time of pandemic spent the last part of their earthly life in solitude, in an intensive care unit, assisted by generous healthcare workers, yet far from their loved ones and the most important people in their lives? This helps us to see how important is the presence at our side of witnesses to God’s charity, who, following the example of Jesus, the very mercy of the Father, pour the balm of consolation and the wine of hope on the wounds of the sick.”
The Holy Father addresses healthcare workers: “Your service alongside the sick, carried out with love and competence, transcends the bounds of your profession and becomes a mission. Your hands, which touch the suffering flesh of Christ, can be a sign of the merciful hands of the Father. Be mindful of the great dignity of your profession, as well as the responsibility that it entails”
Francis emphasizes that, “patients are always more important than their diseases, and for this reason, no therapeutic approach can prescind from listening to the patient, his or her history, anxieties and fears. Even when healing is not possible, care can always be given. It is always possible to console, it is always possible to make people sense a closeness that is more interested in the person than in his or her pathology. For this reason, I would hope that the training provided to health workers might enable them to develop a capacity for listening and relating to others.
He explains that, “the World Day of the Sick is also a good occasion to focus our attention on care centers. Down the centuries, showing mercy to the sick led the Christian community to open innumerable ‘inns of the good Samaritan’ where love and care can be given to people with various kinds of sickness, especially those whose health needs are not being met due to poverty or social exclusion or to the difficulties associated with treating certain pathologies.”
However, writes the Pope, “We still have a long way to go; in some countries, access to adequate care remains a luxury. We see this, for example, in the scarcity of available vaccines against Covid-19 in poor countries; but even more in the lack of treatment for illnesses that require much simpler medicines. In this context, I wish to reaffirm the importance of Catholic healthcare institutions: they are a precious treasure to be protected and preserved; their presence has distinguished the history of the Church, showing her closeness to the sick and the poor, and to situations overlooked by others.”
“At a time in which the culture of waste is widespread and life is not always acknowledged as worthy of being welcomed and lived, these structures, like ‘houses of mercy’, can be exemplary in protecting and caring for all life, even the most fragile, from its beginning until its natural end.”
Pope Francis concludes: “I would like to remind everyone that closeness to the sick and their pastoral care is not only the task of certain specifically designated ministers; visiting the sick is an invitation that Christ addresses to all his disciples. How many sick and elderly people are living at home and waiting for a visit! The ministry of consolation is a task for every baptized person, mindful of the word of Jesus: ‘I was sick and you visited me’.”