In a message ahead of the World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis reminded Catholics that caring for the ill and infirm is not the calling of a few, but part of every Christian’s mission to show mercy.
“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,” the pope said.
“How many sick and elderly people are living at home and waiting for a visit,” he added. “The ministry of consolation is a task for every baptized person, mindful of the words of Jesus: ‘I was sick and you visited me.’”
The Catholic Church will mark the 30th annual World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France is associated with the sick because of the presence of a miraculous spring from which many people have obtained physical healing.
Pope Francis said that his predecessor John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick in 1992 as a way “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.”
In his message, Francis focused on mercy in light of this year’s theme: “‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36): Standing beside those who suffer on a path of charity.”
God’s mercy “combines strength and tenderness,” he said, and “the supreme witness of the Father’s merciful love for the sick is his only-begotten Son.”
Pope Francis, who spent 10 days in hospital last July after colon surgery, pointed out Jesus’ great concern for the sick and suffering during his earthly ministry. Jesus encountered many people suffering from disease and he performed miracles of healing.
It is a good idea for us to ask ourselves why Jesus showed such concern, the pope said, noting that one reason may be the loneliness that people can feel when they are sick or in pain.
Quoting the 20th-century French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, the pope said: “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.”
Jesus, Francis said, invites everyone — from physicians and nurses to laboratory technicians, support staff, and other caretakers — to show mercy toward those who are unwell.
While we thank God for the wonderful advances in medical science and technology, we must never forget “the uniqueness of each patient, his or her dignity and frailties,” he urged.