World Day of the Sick: the Message of the Cross

On the Charism of a Man Who Contemplated Christ’s Suffering

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, FEB. 10, 2012 ( There are people who in the face of suffering and pain rebel and become bitter. But there are many others in the same conditions who find the meaning of life and discover the love of God.

From this point of view, the Christian message is revolutionary because it succeeds in addressing the experience of suffering without giving in to discouragement, disappointment or defection. On the contrary, pain becomes the occasion to find grace and salvation.

And it is precisely with the perspective of the transformation of suffering into a resource for good that Monsignor Luigi Novarese discovered his charism, uniting the healthy and the sick, those in need of a cure and doctors, laymen and priests giving life to the Center of Volunteers of Suffering (VOS) and to the Silent Workers of the Cross (SWC).

Monsignor Novarese will be beatified in May 2013. To understand the meaning of his charism, ZENIT interviewed Father Luciano Ruga, general moderator of the Silent Workers of the Cross.

ZENIT: What does the World Day of the Sick mean? And how do you hope to celebrate it?

Father Ruga: This year it could be understood usefully as an answer to the desire the Holy Father expressed in his message: I wish to encourage the sick and suffering to always find a sure anchor in the faith. We seek the anchor, we invite the suffering to be seekers and witnesses of the faith, ever more disposed to teach pastors how to celebrate better the sacrament they intend to offer them: without a hasty visit, consciously choosing an appropriate biblical text, attentive to the course of the liturgical year, preparing themselves a bit if they intend to address words to them of biblical reflection or exhortation, remaining open to dialogue without the pretense of having all the answers. The anchor of the faith is a precious good; it can be found by seeking it together.

ZENIT: Sickness brings suffering and pain. In what way and why do you believe that grace can be found in pain and suffering?

Father Ruga: It is in the encounter with Christ that grace is found. For this to happen, it is necessary that there be a responsible choice, a passion for life. It is the active dimension that the healed leper expressed very well in Luke’s account, chosen by Pope Benedict for his message on the occasion of this 20th World Day of the Sick (cf. Luke 17:11-19). It is he, the sick one who goes back to Jesus, to manifest his awareness of its having to do with something more profound and greater than a healing from leprosy. In communion with Christ, there is something more profound than a healing or some meaning given to pain: there is always the fullness of life.

ZENIT: Your founder, Monsignor Luigi Novarese, will be proclaimed Blessed in May of 2013. What was his charism?

Father Ruga: Monsignor Novarese’s charism was born of a Marian contemplation of the cross. Our founder held that the Paschal Mystery, in the dynamic of redemptive charity, was the complement of all man’s dignity, even in the most difficult moments. The gaze Luigi Novarese turned upon the cross was educated by the presence of Mary, a participant in the suffering, death and the herald of the new life of resurrection. From the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima, Monsignor Novarese understood the vivid presence of Mary in the life of the Church.

ZENIT: There are Volunteers of Suffering and Silent Workers of the Cross. What difference is there between them? What activity do they engage in? How many are there and where are they in the world?

Father Ruga: The Silent Workers of the Cross are an international association of consecrated life. There are 130 members, clerics and laymen, divided in two ways of life: in community and in their own families, distinct in the masculine and feminine branches. They are dedicated to the appreciation of suffering and to the integral promotion of the person who is suffering. They work in the area of pastoral animation and in social rehabilitation centers. Today they are present in Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. Fostering this end is the creation and development of associations of diocesan right, called Centers of Volunteers of Suffering and gathered in the International VOS Confederation (with more than 100,000 registered).

[Translation by ZENIT]
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