Illness in John Paul II's Teaching and Experience

See Value of Sickness for His Ministry

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2005 ( Shortly after John Paul II’s hospitalization late Tuesday, his private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, said that he did not find the Pope «too preoccupied.»

He added that the Holy Father said, «Pray and be at peace.»

The Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera reported these comments online, in a special edition. This morning, Vatican Radio said that the Pope’s state of health gave «no reason for alarm,» in the words of spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls.

John Paul II is no stranger to hospitals. At age 24, Karol Wojtyla was hospitalized for 12 days in Krakow as the result of an accident.

As Pope, John Paul II has been hospitalized nine times — all but once at Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, where is he now staying.

Following the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square the Holy Father underwent an operation and was hospitalized for 21 days. A month later, an infection made a second operation necessary, which meant 55 days of hospitalization.

In July 1992 he had an 18-day hospital stay when a benign tumor was removed from his intestine. The following year, he was admitted for a few hours for a routine checkup.

In 1993, after a fall, he suffered a dislocated shoulder and was hospitalized for two days.

Then he fractured his femur in 1994 and was admitted for 29 days. In 1996 he had a checkup in the Hospital of Albano and the same year went to the Gemelli to undergo an appendectomy.

«Since I too have shared the experience of illness several times in recent years, I have come to understand more and more clearly its value for my Petrine ministry and for the Church’s life itself,» the Pope said in his Message for the 2001 World Day of the Sick.

On that occasion, at the same time as he expressed his affection and solidarity with all those who suffer, he invited them «to contemplate with faith the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, in order to discover God’s loving plan in their own experience of pain. Only by looking at Jesus, ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53: 3), is it possible to find serenity and trust.»

That was precisely the line the Pope articulated, less than three years after the attack in St. Peter’s Square, in his apostolic letter «Salvifici Doloris,» in which he addressed the Christian sense of human suffering.

In this document he also said that it «is especially consoling to note — and also accurate in accordance with the Gospel and history — that at the side of Christ, in the first and most exalted place, there is always his Mother through the exemplary testimony that she bears by her whole life to this particular Gospel of suffering.»

John Paul II wished to give the World Day of the Sick, which he himself instituted, an especially Marian dimension, and so, for 13 years now it has been held on Feb. 11, the liturgical memorial of the Virgin of Lourdes.

«We all need models spurring us to walk the road of the sanctification of pain,» said John Paul II in his Message for the 1994 World Day of the Sick, proposing on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes that the faithful contemplate «Mary as a living icon of the Gospel of suffering.»

This Feb. 11 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Pope’s establishment of the commission that eventually became the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. He intended the entity as an expression of the «solicitude of the Church toward the sick.»

Last Aug. 15, the Holy Father joined the sick and their companions, as well as their caregivers and families, at the Marian shrine in Lourdes, France, «as a pilgrim before the Virgin.»

A day earlier he said: «Dear brothers and sisters who are sick, how I would like to embrace each and every one of you with affection, to tell you how close I am to you and how much I support you.»

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