World Day of the Sick: Our Lady's Feast and Her Love for the Ill

Bishop of Lourdes on John Paul II’s Spirit

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By Anita Bourdin

ROME, FEB. 10, 2012 ( The liturgical feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which will be celebrated on Saturday, coincides with the World Day of the Sick. 

For the occasion ZENIT spoke with Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes-Lourdes.

ZENIT: Bishop Perrier, John Paul II decided that the World Day of the Sick should coincide with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes: why observe this Day and why Lourdes?

Bishop Perrier: Obviously, the institution of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry and the World Day of the Sick stems from John Paul II’s personal experience. The Holy Father took much time before returning to his normal activity after the attack of May 13, 1981, the effects of which he always felt thereafter. However, that isn’t the only reason. John Paul II was convinced that prayer and the offering of the sick played an important role in the sanctification of the Church and in evangelization. The title of his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris is, moreover, revealing of his thought, though provocative for opinion.

In regard to the choice of Lourdes, which is known for its healings, it demonstrates that God is promise of life, that the desire to heal is perfectly legitimate and that the activity of the curing staff must be appreciated and supported by the Church. Bernadette, who became a Sister, was an excellent nurse, despite her weak initial formation.

ZENIT: What are the different aspects of this Day at Lourdes?

Bishop Perrier: The strange thing is that on Feb. 11 there are very few sick at Lourdes. In winter the accueils (points of reception,) aren’t open. Hence it is the sick and disabled of Lourdes itself that represent all those who will come in subsequent months.

ZENIT: This year Benedict XVI’s message insists on the sacraments of healing. Can you tell us something more?

Bishop Perrier: Since Vatican II and the liturgical reform it introduced, the Church no longer speaks of «Extreme Unction,» with all the «funerary» charge that those words entailed in the ordinary mentality. However, it is an error to describe the Anointing of the Sick as the «Sacrament of the Sick,» as if it were the only sacrament adapted to the situation of the sick: Reconciliation and the Eucharist are also. Is not the Eucharist the pledge of eternal life? «Whoever easts this bread will live forever.»

ZENIT: At Lourdes there is not only the Grotto, but hospitals and chaplains. What are the challenges that hospital chaplains must face today?

Bishop Perrier: The main challenge in our present culture is to give meaning to suffering, which progress in medicine has reduced but not eliminated. This suffering is multiple, not just physical. The passage that leads to the offering of oneself is an arduous journey. Pope John Paul II spoke about it humbly at Lourdes on Aug. 15, 1983. It is a real and proper journey of conversion: the prayer of the Christian community and the communion of saints must be solicited.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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