On Thursday afternoon, after having celebrated Mass with 70,000 people, Pope Benedict traveled to a home for young people with disabilities or suffering from traumatic experiences. The Holy Father told the young people that they are not alone in their pain as he elaborated on the Church’s commitment to accompany those suffering, including AIDS patients.
The visit to Yaounde's Cardinal Leger National Rehabilitation Centre began at four in the afternoon and saw the Holy Father meet with the center’s youth as well as 200 sick people, who were brought there from hospitals around Cameroon.
"You are not alone in your pain, for Christ Himself is close to all who suffer," the Pope proclaimed as he spoke to the sick. "He reveals to the sick and infirm their place in the heart of God and in society," he added, noting how in the Gospels Christ often shows us, "through specific actions, His fraternal tenderness and benevolence towards all the broken-hearted, all whose bodies are wounded."
In keeping with his goal of tending to the wounds of Africa, the Pope said, "As I stand here today, I am mindful of all the people in hospitals ... who suffer from a disability, mental or physical. I also think of those whose flesh bears the scars of wars and violence. I remember too all the sick and, especially here in Africa, the victims of such diseases as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. I know how actively engaged the Catholic Church in your country is in the fight against these terrible afflictions, and I encourage you to pursue this urgent task with great determination."
Although it was missed by most of the media, who focused on the Pope’s solitary line about condoms, his Thursday address to the sick and suffering built off of his strategy for fighting AIDS that he mentioned on the Tuesday plane ride to Cameroon.
Pope Benedict stressed once again the need to accompany the sick and suffering, the second prong of the Church’s strategy to combat AIDS.
In the presence of atrocious torment "we feel powerless and we cannot find the right words. Before a brother or sister plunged into the mystery of the Cross, a respectful and compassionate silence, a prayerful presence, a gesture of tenderness and comfort, a kind look, a smile, often achieve more than many words," he said.
The Holy Father then provided a Scriptural reflection on accompanying the suffering by mentioning the "small group of men and women, including the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John, who followed Jesus in the depths of His suffering at the time of His Passion and His death on the Cross."
Among this group, the Pope explained "was an African, Simon of Cyrene, ... [who] took part, at the price of his own suffering, in the infinite suffering of the One Who ransomed all men, including His executioners."
"It is hard to accept to carry someone else's cross. Only after the resurrection could he have understood what he had done. Brothers and sisters, it is the same for each of us: in the depths of our anguish, of our own rebellion, Christ offers us His loving presence even if we find it hard to understand that He is at our side. Only the Lord's final victory will reveal for us the definitive meaning of our trials.
"Can it not be said," the Holy Father asked, "that every African is in some sense a member of the family of Simon of Cyrene? Every African who suffers, indeed every person who suffers, helps Christ to carry His Cross and climbs with Him the path to Golgotha in order one day to rise again with Him. ... Since the resurrection, and right up to our own time, there have been countless witnesses who have turned, with faith and hope, towards the Savior of mankind, recognizing His presence at the heart of their suffering. May the Father of mercies graciously grant the prayers of all who turn to Him. He answers our call and our prayer, as and when He wishes, for our good and not according to our desires."
Pope Benedict invited sick people to "gaze upon the Crucified One, with faith and courage, for from Him come life, comfort, and healing," and to turn to St. Joseph, "an intercessor for bodily health ... [and] for the health of the soul."
Addressing doctors and researchers who were present, the Pope reminded them that they all have the task of "putting into practice every legitimate form of pain relief; you are called, in the first place, to protect human life, you are the defenders of life from conception to natural death. For every person, respect for life is a right and at the same time a duty, since all life is a gift from God.
"With you," he concluded, "I would like to give thanks to the Lord for all who, in one way or another, work in the service of the suffering. I encourage priests and those who visit the sick to commit themselves to an active and friendly presence in their hospital chaplaincy, or to assure an ecclesial presence in the home, for the comfort and spiritual support of the sick."