How the Pope Might Be Facing Illness

Interview With President of Council for Health Care Workers

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2005 ( How is John Paul II living these hours in which he is hospitalized for complications brought on by flu? How does he relate to illness and suffering?

In this interview, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, ventures a response. John Paul II established the pontifical council so that the Church might witness to the world with greater clarity and enthusiasm the Christian dimension of pain and sickness.

The cardinal gave ZENIT this interview at midday today, in his office on the Via della Conciliazione, shortly after a Vatican spokesman said that the Pope’s condition was stabilized.

Q: The attention of the world’s media has focused during these hours on the person of John Paul II as he has been hospitalized. How is the Pope living these moments?

Cardinal Lozano: According to the medical reports that we have, what has occurred does not worry us especially.

There was a certain complication last night and it was thought appropriate to take him to the Gemelli hospital because it has all the means to care for him in the best way.

It is an acute flu which also has gastric consequences and, because of the respiratory problems it causes, it was thought appropriate to hospitalize him so that he would not develop complications. Up to now, I insist, up to now there is no reason for special concern.

But, undoubtedly, the Pope is sick and he is 84 years old. If we look only at the physical aspect, then we realize that his health is deteriorating, as cells go deteriorating in all of us as we get older. There is no doubt that they will come to an end. This is obvious.

But we Christians, and first of all the Pope, go beyond a mechanistic, biological and merely physical mentality. In the face of the most acute problems of life, which are thought about by those who have the courage to think about them, the questions arise: «Why suffering? Why death?»

Q: And what answer does the Pope give to these questions?

Cardinal Lozano: The answer is not an ideology of some sort, either an ideology that denies death, which is ridiculous, or an ideology that speak about a stoic attitude, which is silly.

Everyone knows that the worse thing that can happen to us is to die. And we are going to die without a doubt. Then, the only solution is something wonderful: It is a historical event, which occurred and which maintains its absolute present importance — Christ dead and risen.

The Pope has a very beautiful expression in the encyclical «Salvifici Doloris,» which he took up again later in the apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte,» when he says that Christ on the cross had, on one side, his face, his whole being, suffering; and on the other side, glorious.

The two dimensions go together, as Christ on the cross did not cease to be God and was sure of his resurrection. He was suffering and, at the same time, joyful.

Q: Do you think the Pope is now living these two aspects?

Cardinal Lozano: Precisely. However, the Pope does not say: «Just as Christ was suffering and glorious I want to imitate him.» No, he bears within himself, as any one of us can, thanks to baptism and the rest of the sacraments, the suffering and glorious Christ.

Then, it is not a question of my imitating Jesus’ conduct, as I would not have the strength to do so — it would be absurd. But I cede the way to Christ with his divine omnipotence so that he will supply the utmost to me and give me the greatest happiness. It is a paradox that is realized only by Christ’s omnipotence. It is what is called the «new creation.»

In the latter, it is no longer God creating the world out of nothing, but God creating within me, the guilty nothing, that is, with original sin, with my own sins, my situation of evil, my situation of sickness given all the evil of the world. In that moment one experiences redemption in one’s innermost being, real redemption.

This redemption means joy and happiness, because in death is the height of life, the new creation through the love of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that hovered over the initial waters, in the initial confusion, makes the «cosmos,» order, arise.

And from this confusion, which is pain, sickness, death, darkness, the Spirit with his most felicitous light, with his love and greatest consolation, makes the new creation arise, which is the resurrection, to the joy and happiness of the one who suffers.

In this sense the Pope is a transparence of the suffering and glorious Christ.

Q: Do you think, then, that the world can see in this Pope another Christ, «alter Christus,» as is the case of a priest when he celebrates the sacraments?

Cardinal Lozano: Yes, but in the Pope this is true in a very special way. Christ is the principle and foundation of the Church, the rock; and the Pope, John Paul II, is that visible foundation. That is why in him his painful and glorious experience is projected in such a strong manner.

He is here to confirm, to strengthen our suffering and our joy. It’s his function.

And those of us who help him must share in it, in particular, those in the pontifical council that he instituted with that objective: to witness to Christ, dead and risen, in particular before those who suffer and are sick.

Q: Then, as president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, what advice or call do you give to Christians who are following closely the news on the Pope?

Cardinal Lozano: I would say that it is very good to be interested in the Pope’s health, but that one must be able to interpret what the Pope’s life means in the life of each one of us.

In other words, each one of us Christians must be like Christ, suffering and joyful at the same time. That is, we must not fall for the great error of the health «ethics» of our time, which confuses health with well-being.

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