John Paul II’s Message for World Day of the Sick

“Christ, Hope for Africa”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 30, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is John Paul II’s Message for the 13th World Day of the Sick, the main celebrations of which will be held in Cameroon on Feb. 11.

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Message of the Holy Father John Paul II for the XIII World Day of the Sick

Yaoundé, Cameroon, February 11, 2005

Christ, Hope for Africa

1. In 2005, ten years on, Africa will once again host the principal celebrations of the World Day of the Sick, which will be held at the Sanctuary of Mary the Queen of the Apostles, in Yaoundé, Cameroon. This choice will offer an opportunity to express practical solidarity towards the populations of that continent, who are afflicted by grave failings in health care. In this way, a further step forward will be taken in the implementation of the commitment that the Christians of Africa, ten years ago or so, made during the third World Day of the Sick, namely to become ‘Good Samaritans’ towards their brothers and sisters in difficulty.

Indeed, in my post-Synod Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa,” taking up the observations made by many of the Synod Fathers, I wrote that “contemporary Africa can be compared to the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; he fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him and departed, leaving him half dead (cf. Luke 10:30-37).” And I added: “Africa is a Continent where countless human beings — men and women, children and young people — are lying, as it were, on the edge of the road, sick, injured, disabled, marginalized and abandoned. They are in dire need of Good Samaritans who will come to their aid” (n. 41: AAS, 88 [1996], 27).

2. The World Day of the Sick also has as its purpose that of stimulating reflection on the notion of health, which in its most complete meaning also alludes to a situation of harmony of the human being with himself and with the world that surrounds him. Now, it is precisely this vision that Africa expresses in a markedly rich way in her cultural tradition, as is born witness to by so many artistic expressions, of both a civil and religious character, which are full of a sense of joy, of rhythm, and of musicality.

Unfortunately, however, this harmony is today strongly disturbed. So many diseases devastate this Continent, and amongst them all, in particular, there is the scourge of AIDS, “which is sowing suffering and death in many parts of Africa” (ibid., n. 116; 1.c., 69).

Conflicts and wars, which torment by no means few regions in Africa, make interventions designed to prevent and treat these diseases more difficult. In camps for refugees and displaced persons there often lie people who even lack the supplies that are indispensable to their survival. I exhort those who have the possibility to do so to become deeply committed to ending such tragedies (cf. ibid., n. 117:1.c., 69-70).

I also remind those who are responsible for the arms trade of what I wrote in that document: “Those who foment wars in Africa by the arms trade are accomplices in abominable crimes against humanity” (ibid., n. 118: 1.c., 70).

3. As regards the drama of AIDS, I have already had occasion in other circumstances to emphasize that AIDS is also a “pathology of the spirit.” In order to fight AIDS in a responsible way, its prevention should be increased through education in respect for the sacred value of life and through formation in the correct practice of sexuality. Indeed, although many infections by contagion through blood take place, especially during the course of pregnancy — infections that should be combated with every endeavor — those that take place by a sexual route, which can be avoided first and foremost through responsible behavior and the observance of chastity, are far greater in number.

The Bishops taking part in the above mentioned Synod for Africa of 1994, referring to the role that irresponsible sexual behavior plays in the spread of this disease, formulated a recommendation that I would like to propose again here: “The companionship, joy, happiness and peace which Christian marriage and fidelity provide, and the safeguard which chastity gives, must be continuously presented to the faithful, particularly the young” (Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa,” n. 116: AAS, 88 [1996], 27).

4. Everyone should feel involved in the fight against AIDS. It is up to those in government and the civil authorities to provide, in relation to this same subject, clear and correct information at the service of citizens, and also to devote sufficient resources to the education of young people and to health care. I encourage international organizations to promote initiatives in this field that are inspired by wisdom and solidarity, always seeking to defend human dignity and uphold the inviolable right to life.

A convinced applause goes to those pharmaceutical companies that are committed to keeping down the price of drugs and medicines used in the treatment of AIDS. It is certainly the case that economic resources are needed in the health care field and that yet further resources are needed to make the drugs and medicines that are discovered marketable, but in the face of emergencies such as AIDS the safeguarding of human life must come before any other assessment.

I ask pastoral workers “to bring to their brothers and sisters affected by AIDS all possible material, moral and spiritual comfort. I urgently ask the world’s scientists and political leaders, moved by the love and respect due to every human person, to use every means available in order to put an end to this scourge” (Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa,” n. 116: 1.c.).

I would like in particular to remember here, with admiration, the very many health care workers, pastoral assistants and volunteers who, as Good Samaritans, spend their lives at the side of AIDS victims and take care of their relatives. In this area, the service provided by millions of Catholic health care institutions is valuable, coming to the aid, as they do, at times in a heroic way, to those in Africa who are afflicted by every sort of infirmity, in particular by AIDS, by malaria and by tuberculosis.

Over recent years I have been able to observe that my appeals on behalf of AIDS victims have not been in vain. I have seen with pleasure that various countries and institutions, coordinating their efforts, have supported practical campaigns involving prevention and the treatment of those suffering from AIDS.

5. I now turn, in a special way, to you, dear brother Bishops of the Bishops’ Conferences of the other continents of the world, to generously join the Pastors of Africa in effectively addressing this and other emergencies. The Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care will not fail to offer, as it has done in the past, its own contribution to coordinating and promoting such cooperation, calling for the practical support of every Bishops’ Conference.

The concern of the Church for the problems of Africa is not motivated solely by reasons of philanthropic compassion towards men in need — it is also stimulated by adherence to Christ the Redeemer, whose face she sees in the features of every person who suffers. It is therefore faith that leads her to be fully committed to looking after the sick, as she has always done during the course of history. It is hope that makes her able to persevere in this mission despite the obstacles of every kind that she encounters. And lastly it is charity that suggests to her the right approach to different situations, allowing her to perceive the special features of each one and to meet them.

With this approach of profound sharing, the Church comes to the wounded of life in order to offer them the love of Christ through the very many forms of help that “creativity in charity” (Apostolic Letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” n. 50) suggests to her in order to come to their aid. To each one of them I say: courage, God has not forgotten you. Christ suffers with you. And you, offering up your sufferings, can work with him for the redemption of the world.

6. The annual celebration of the World Day of the Sick offers everyone the possibility of understanding more effectively the importance of pastoral care in health. In our time, which is marked by a culture imbued with secularism, people at times are tempted not to appreciate to the full this pastoral field. It is thought that the destiny of man is at stake in other fields. Instead, it is specifically at the time of illness that with most urgency emerges the need to find adequate answers to the ultimate questions concerning the life of man: questions about the meaning of pain, of suffering and of death itself, seen not only as an enigma which must be arduously faced up to but also as a mystery in which Christ takes upon himself our existence and opens it to a new and definitive birth to that life which will never end.

In Christ is the hope of true and full health; the salvation that he brings is the real answer to the ultimate questions of man. There is no contradiction between earthly health and eternal health, given that the Lord died for the overall health of man and of all men (cf. 1 Peter 1:2-5; Liturgy of Good Friday, the Adoration of the Cross). Salvation is the ultimate content of the New Covenant.

At the next World Day of the Sick we thus wish to proclaim the hope for full health and the whole of mankind, committing ourselves to work with greater determination at the service of this great cause.

7. In the gospel passage of the Beatitudes the Lord proclaims: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The antinomy that seems to exist between suffering and joy is overcome thanks to the comforting action of the Holy Spirit. Shaping us to the mystery of Christ who was crucified and rose again, the Spirit opens us henceforth to the joy that will achieve its fullness in the beatifying encounter with the Redeemer. In reality, the human being does not aspire to well-being that is only physical or spiritual, but to a “health” that expresses itself in total harmony with God, with himself and with humanity. This goal is reached solely through the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Most Holy Mary offers us an eloquent prefiguring of this eschatological reality, especially through the mysteries of her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption to Heaven. In her, conceived without any shadow of sin, openness both to the will of God and to the service of men is total, and as a result, full is that profound harmony from which springs joy. We thus employ the right title when we turn to her and invoke her as the “cause of our joy.” What the Virgin gives us is a joy that also remains in the midst of trials.

However, when thinking of Africa, which is endowed with immense human, cultural and religious resources but also afflicted with unspeakable sufferings, a sorrowful prayer spontaneously flowers on my lips:

Mary, Immaculate Virgin,
Woman of pain and hope,
be benevolent to each person who suffers
and obtain for everyone fullness of life.

Turn your maternal gaze
especially to those who in Africa
are in extreme need,
because afflicted by AIDS or by another fatal disease.

Look at the mothers who weep for their children;
look at the grandparents who are without sufficient resources
to support their grandchildren who have become orphans.

Clasp all of them to your Mother’s heart,
Queen of Africa and the whole world,
Most Holy Virgin, pray for us!

From the Vatican, 8 September 2004.

Johannes Paulus II

[Translation issued by Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers]

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