For visitors to the Vatican, Saturday marked both the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and appropriately, the 14th annual World Day of the Sick. Pope Benedict XVI used the opportunity to stress the importance of human dignity when caring for the sick and mentally ill, and even went so far as to dedicate his new Encyclical to health care workers and volunteers in the field.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, was on hand to celebrate an afternoon Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the sick and for pilgrims of UNITALSI (Italian National Union for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines), and of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.
Following Mass, Pope Benedict came to the basilica to bless the sick and address some words to those present.
In his brief address, Pope Benedict recalled the grotto of Massabielle, in Lourdes, at which, he said “the Virgin showed the tenderness of God towards those who suffer.”
“Appearing to Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception,” he said, “Mary Most Holy came to remind the modern world, which risked forgetting, of the primacy of divine Grace which is stronger than sin and death."
Moving on, the Pope discussed a just-completed Australian congress on Mental Health and human dignity. That gathering, held from February 9th through 10th was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.
On this, Benedict said that "The human person is a single entity the various dimensions of which may be distinguished but not separated.”
“The Church”, he said, “always aims to consider persons in this light, and this concept characterizes both Catholic health care institutions, and the approach of those who work in them."
He also made a heartfelt appeal for those suffering mental illness and for their families, saying that "We feel close to [people in] such situations, with our prayers and with the numerous initiatives implemented by the ecclesial community all over the world…”
He particularly called to mind “places where legislation is lacking, where public structures are insufficient and where natural disasters or, alas, war and armed conflict, create grave psychological trauma in individuals."
The Holy Father then “symbolically consigned“ his new Encyclical ‘Deus caristas est’ "To all doctors, nurses and other health care workers, and all volunteers who work in this field…“
Benedict did this, he said, “with the hope that God may ever remain alive in their hearts, so as to animate their daily work, their projects, their initiatives and above all their relationship with the sick.”
“Acting in the name of charity and in the way of charity,” he added, “you also offer your precious contribution to evangelization, because the announcement of the Gospel has need of coherent signs to confirm it. And these signs speak the language of universal love, a language that everyone can understand."
In conclusion, the Pope called on the Virgin Mary "to keep our hope alive so that, faithful to Christ's teaching, we may renew our commitment to raise up our brothers and sisters in their sickness.”
“May the Lord”, he prayed, “ensure that people do not remain alone and abandoned at the moment of need but, rather, that they may experience even illness in accordance with human dignity."