Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Church’s service to the sick and those who care for them must continue with renewed vigour, in fidelity to the Lord’s command (cf. Lk 9:2-6; Mt 10:1-8; Mk 6:7-13) and following the eloquent example of her Founder and Master.
The theme for this year’s Day of the Sick is provided by the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross to Mary, his Mother, and to John: ‘Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home’ (Jn 19:26-27).
1. The Lord’s words brilliantly illuminate the mystery of the Cross, which does not represent a hopeless tragedy, but rather the place where Jesus manifests his glory and shows his love to the end. That love in turn was to become the basis and rule for the Christian community and the life of each disciple.
Before all else, Jesus’ words are the source of Mary’s maternal vocation for all humanity. Mary was to be, in particular, the Mother of her Son’s disciples, caring for them and their journey through life. As we know, a mother’s care for her son or daughter includes both the material and spiritual dimensions of their upbringing.
The unspeakable pain of the Cross pierces Mary’s soul (cf. Lk 2:35), but does not paralyze her. Quite the opposite. As the Lord’s Mother, a new path of self-giving opens up before her. On the Cross, Jesus showed his concern for the Church and all humanity, and Mary is called to share in that same concern. In describing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Acts of the Apostles show that Mary began to carry out this role in the earliest community of the Church. A role that never ceases.
2. John, the beloved disciple, is a figure of the Church, the messianic people. He must acknowledge Mary as his Mother. In doing so, he is called to take her into his home, to see in her the model of all discipleship, and to contemplate the maternal vocation that Jesus entrusted to her, with all that it entails: a loving Mother who gives birth to children capable of loving as Jesus commands. That is why Mary’s maternal vocation to care for her children is entrusted to John and to the Church as a whole. The entire community of disciples is included in Mary’s maternal vocation.
3. John, as a disciple who shared everything with Jesus, knows that the Master wants to lead all people to an encounter with the Father. He can testify to the fact that Jesus met many people suffering from spiritual sickness due to pride (cf. Jn 8:31-39) and from physical ailments (cf. Jn 5:6). He bestowed mercy and forgiveness upon all, and healed the sick as a sign of the abundant life of the Kingdom, where every tear will be wiped away. Like Mary, the disciples are called to care for one another, but not only that. They know that Jesus’ heart is open to all and excludes no one. The Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed to all, and the charity of Christians must be directed to all, simply because they are persons, children of God.
4. The Church’s maternal vocation to the needy and to the sick has found concrete expression throughout the two thousand years of her history in an impressive series of initiatives on behalf of the sick. This history of dedication must not be forgotten. It continues to the present day throughout the world. In countries where adequate public health care systems exist, the work of Catholic religious congregations and dioceses and their hospitals is aimed not only at providing quality medical care, but also at putting the human person at the centre of the healing process, while carrying out scientific research with full respect for life and for Christian moral values. In countries where health care systems are inadequate or non-existent, the Church seeks to do what she can to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease. Everywhere she tries to provide care, even when she is not in a position to offer a cure. The image of the Church as a ‘field hospital’ that welcomes all those wounded by life is a very concrete reality, for in some parts of the world, missionary and diocesan hospitals are the only institutions providing necessary care to the population.
5. The memory of this long history of service to the sick is cause for rejoicing on the part of the Christian community, and especially those presently engaged in this ministry. Yet we must look to the past above all to let it enrich us. We should learn the lesson it teaches us about the self-sacrificing generosity of many founders of institutes in the service of the infirm, the creativity, prompted by charity, of many initiatives undertaken over the centuries, and the commitment to scientific research as a means of offering innovative and reliable treatments to the sick. This legacy of the past helps us to build a better future, for example, by shielding Catholic hospitals from the business mentality that is seeking worldwide to turn health care into a profit-making enterprise, which ends up discarding the poor. Wise organization and charity demand that the sick person be respected in his or her dignity, and constantly kept at the centre of the therapeutic process. This should likewise be the approach of Christians who work in public structures; through their service, they too are called to bear convincing witness to the Gospel.
6. Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power: ‘These signs will accompany those who believe... they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’ (Mk 16:17-18). In the Acts of the Apostles, we read accounts of the healings worked by Peter (cf. Acts3:4-8) and Paul (cf. Acts 14:8-11). The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion. Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions. We cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives. The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies. Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission. It is a shared responsibility that enriches the value of the daily service given by each.
7. To Mary, Mother of tender love, we wish to entrust all those who are ill in body and soul, that she may sustain them in hope. We ask her also to help us to be welcoming to our sick brothers and sisters. The Church knows that she requires a special grace to live up to her evangelical task of serving the sick. May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the Church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health. May the Virgin Mary intercede for this Twenty-sixth World Day of the Sick; may she help the sick to experience their suffering in communion with the Lord Jesus; and may she support all those who care for them. To all, the sick, to healthcare workers and to volunteers, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 26th November 2017 Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe