The World Day of the Sick was established by Pope John Paul II in 1992 to draw attention to the sick and their caregivers and highlight the redemptive value of human suffering. The day is celebrated according to a specific theme and in a different location each year on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11. This year’s World Day of the Sick was celebrated in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. Our Little Sisters in Kolkata participated in the various events of this World Day.
Pope Francis chose a theme focused on caregivers for this year’s celebration, “You received without payment; give without payment” (Mt 10:8). The joy of generous giving, he wrote, is a barometer of a Christian’s health. “‘Gift’ means more than simply giving presents: it involves the giving of oneself. ‘Gift’ differs from gift-giving because it entails the free gift of self and the desire to build a relationship. It is the acknowledgement of others, which is the basis of society. ‘Gift’ is a reflection of God’s love, which culminates in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
Francis expressed his hope that everyone involved in the world of health care will promote the culture of gift, which can help overcome the culture of profit and waste so prevalent today. “Catholic healthcare institutions must not fall into the trap of simply running a business; they must be concerned with personal care more than profit,” he wrote. “We know that health is relational, dependent on interaction with others, and requiring trust, friendship and solidarity. It is a treasure that can be enjoyed fully only when it is shared.”
Although it is referred to as a “Day,” the World Day of the Sick is actually comprised of a program lasting several days. This year a Vatican delegation led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, joined bishops from India and south-east Asia, along with over 200 delegates, for three days of reflection, service and liturgical celebrations, highlighting the Anointing of the Sick.
Saturday, February 9 was devoted to a seminar at St. Xavier’s College, a Jesuit institution of higher education. The day was devoted to study and discussion of the theological and pastoral aspects of the Church’s mission among the sick and suffering.
The next morning the delegates visited three Catholic care homes in Kolkata, including our home for the elderly, which is under the pagronage of St. Joseph. The second day also included a public Mass with the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick on the grounds of St. Xavier’s. Three thousand people attended, including about 200 residents of various care centers.
The World Day of the Sick culminated in a large Mass and Anointing on February 11 at the Basilica of the Holy Rosary, a 16th century Portuguese-built church in Bandel, 50 kilometers from Kolkata. Bangladeshi Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, Archbishop of Dhaka, the special envoy of Pope Francis to the World Day of the Sick, was the principal celebrant of this closing Mass.
Cardinal D’Rozario invoked the memory of Mother Teresa, “the Mother of the poorest of the poor,” calling her a “clear call to the whole Church and all nations to be ever more attentive to the Gospel and the culture of mercy, compassion, generosity and healing of both the physical and spiritual life of the sick.”
According to the Cardinal, “communion is the final goal of our ministry for the sick and the suffering.” Only by sharing more and more their pain, can we “recognise the inner beauty of their suffering, because of their communion with others as they suffer.” As patients heal, he said, hearts are converted. “We become aware that much more is being achieved through their suffering than through our healing.”
The theme for this year’s World Day of the Sick brings our attitudes toward the sick full circle — it was Pope John Paul II who established this celebration, and it was he who developed the theology of the body, which is based on what has been termed “the law of the gift.” Gift, as our current Pope wrote in his message for this World Day of the Sick, “entails the free gift of self and the desire to build a relationship.” It is this communion with those we serve that gives meaning to our hospitaller mission!