As chair of the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Episcopal Conference, I welcome Pope Francis message for the World Day of the Sick which takes place on, 11 February, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The past year has been an extraordinary one. As a deadly and disruptive virus circled the world, we became more acutely aware of the importance of healthcare provision and the contribution of those working on the frontline. Pope Francis, in his message, states that the World Day of the Sick provides an “opportunity to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care both in healthcare institutions and within families and communities”.
The Pope reminds us that, as Christians, we should always practice what we preach and reach out in a tangible way to those who are sick and suffering, particularly the marginalised and the poor. Thankfully, so many people, through both secular and religious groups, are doing so by reaching out to those who most need help in their local communities. Such outreach has provided a beacon of hope and positivity in an otherwise challenging time.
Pope Francis emphasises that sickness makes us very aware of our own vulnerability, our need for the care and assistance of others and our dependence on God. Illness is experienced at more than just a physical level. It can also be accompanied by fear and bewilderment, particularly, when we are faced with our own powerless. Sickness normally raises questions about the meaning of life which we bring in faith before God.
The Pope also draws attention to how the current pandemic has highlighted and aggravated the “inequalities in healthcare systems and exposed inefficiencies in the care of the sick”. This has come about because of many different factors: political decisions, the unequal distribution of resources and a lack of commitment to equal healthcare for all. Health is essential for the common good, therefore, care and assistance for the sick should always be a priority.
At the heart of the Pope’s message is an insistence that for therapy to be effective it must have a “relational aspect” which can enable a more holistic approach to the patient. There must be a relationship of trust between healthcare professionals and those who receive their care and expertise. Pope Francis describes it as a relationship based on “mutual trust and respect, openness and availability”. He points to the example of Jesus in the gospel who “heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship”.
The Pope concludes his message by stating that a society is truly human when it cares effectively for the sick and suffering in a spirit of communal love. We must all strive to make sure “that no one will feel alone, excluded or abandoned”.
Pope Francis entrusts the sick, healthcare workers, and all those who assist the suffering to the care of Our Lady. In the midst of the health crisis caused by Covid-19, I encourage all the faithful to take part in the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes, from 3-11 February, to pray for those who are sick, for all who work in the medical profession, and for an end to the pandemic.
Bishop Michael Router