World Day of the Sick: the Vatican's Voice

Pontifical Council President on Commemorating Health Care Ministry

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, FEB. 10, 2012 ( Saturday is the World Day of the Sick. For the Catholic Church this day has a symbolic meaning that goes beyond the civil aspect, because Christianity was born and spread in the world thanks to the evangelical charity that commits all to care for and share in the plight of the suffering.

The day coincides with the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and it reminds us that Mary never abandons humanity. It is precisely she, in fact, who is the most effective mediator of the needs of humans, and our greatest consolation.

To understand better the relevance of such a Day and in what way the Holy See is preparing to observe it, ZENIT interviewed Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

ZENIT: What is the World Day of the Sick and when was it instituted?

Archbishop Zimowski: It was Blessed John Paul II who said in 1992 that the World Day of the Sick should be observed annually on Feb. 11, coinciding with the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.

«In Christ every man becomes the way of the Church,» the Blessed said, in fact, in the Encyclical Letter Salvifici Doloris, and this happens in a special way when suffering enters a person’s life.

In fact, the World Day constitutes an appointment of first grandeur if one considers also that, as the Holy Father Benedict XVI stressed in the Encyclical Spe Salvi, «The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society.»

In regard to the aims of the celebration, these were well delineated in the institutive Letter: to sensitize the People of God and, as a consequence, the many Catholic health institutions and civil society itself, to the need to ensure the best care for the sick; to help the one who is sick to value suffering, on the human plane and above all on the supernatural; to involve in a particular way the dioceses, the Christian communities, religious families in health care ministry; to foster increasingly the precious commitment of volunteers; to recall the importance of spiritual and moral formation of health workers and, finally, to foster better understanding of the importance of religious assistance to the sick by diocesan and regular priests, as well as all those who live and work beside those who suffer.

ZENIT: Twenty years after the institution of the Day, how can it be evaluated?

Archbishop Zimowski: Observed for the first time in 1993, the World Day of the Sick has over time acquired the international resonance and worth that is due to it, even if, undoubtedly, there is still a ways to go. There are local and particular Churches that plan the celebration in a timely and more than adequate way. Among these we can mention the constant commitment of the Churches in Spain and Ireland.

Always crowned by a fitting Message of the Holy Father, which constitutes the platform and tone of the programming, the Day of the Sick has had innumerable benefits for those who suffer and those who are beside them, the pastoral agents and the people who care for the sick. Undoubted also is that, it being a matter of Salus, that is, the integral health of the person, it is not possible to formulate «statistical data.»

Turning to the Pope’s message, this year the theme is «Rise and Go: Your Faith Has Saved You» (Luke 17:19). Published a few weeks ago in different languages, the document is the object of in-depth reflections that will certainly be enriching also in view of future commitments in the world of health.

ZENIT: In what countries has the event been celebrated solemnly?

Archbishop Zimowski: The first «stage,» if it can be described thus, was Lourdes in 1993, where the Day was observed also a second time, in 2004. In 1994 it took place in Czestochowa, in Poland, and the next editions were held in the Ivory Coast, in Mexico, in Portugal (Fatima), at Loreto, in Beirut (Lebanon), at Rome in 2000 and 2010, in Australia in 2001 and in 2006, in India, in the USA, and Cameroon and in Korea. Since 2007 it is held every three years and the next solemn celebration is planned at Altotting in Germany in 2013. As anticipated by Pope Benedict XVI in his Message of this year, the theme will be centered on the figure of the Good Samaritan.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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