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Voices Online Edition
Lent/Easter 2003
Volume XVIII, No. 1

Message for World Day of the Sick
Pope John Paul II

Following are excerpts from Pope John Paul II's message for the Eleventh World Day of the sick, held in Washington DC on February 11, 2003 at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The entire message can be read on the WFF web site at [Spanish]

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.... We know and believe the love God has for us" (I Jn 4:14,16).

These words of the apostle John are a good summary of what the Church seeks to do through her pastoral work in the area of health care. Recognizing the presence of the Lord in our suffering brothers and sisters, she strives to bring them the good news of the Gospel and to offer them authentic signs of love.

This is the context of the Eleventh World Day of the Sick....

Urgent questions about suffering and death, dramatically present in the heart of every person despite the continual attempts by a secular mentality to remove them or ignore them, await satisfactory answers. Especially in the presence of tragic human experiences, the Christian is called to bear witness to the consoling truth of the Risen Lord, who takes upon himself the wounds and ills of humanity, including death itself, and transforms them into occasions of grace and life. This proclamation and this witness are to be delivered to everyone, in every corner of the world.

2. Through the celebration of this World Day of the Sick, may the Gospel of life and love resound loudly, especially in the Americas, where more than half the world's Catholics live. On the continents of North and South America, as elsewhere in the world, "a model of society appears to be emerging in which the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless: I am thinking here of unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurable ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism. Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty.... This model of society bears the stamp of the culture of death, and is therefore in opposition to the Gospel message" (Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia In America, 63). Faced with this worrying fact, how can we fail to include the defense of the culture of life among our pastoral priorities? Catholics working in the field of health care have the urgent task of doing all they can to defend life when it is most seriously threatened and to act with a conscience correctly formed according to the teaching of the Church....

3. This privileged apostolate involves all local Churches. It is therefore necessary that every Episcopal Conference, through appropriate structures, should seek to promote, guide and coordinate the pastoral care of the sick, so that the whole People of God become aware of and sensitive to the many different needs of the suffering.

In order to make this witness of love practical, those involved in the pastoral care of the sick must act in full communion among themselves and with their Bishops. This is of particular importance in Catholic hospitals, which in responding to modern needs are called upon to reflect ever more clearly in their policies the values of the Gospel, as the Magisterium's social and moral guidelines insist. This requires united involvement on the part of Catholic hospitals in every sector, including that of finance and administration.

Catholic hospitals should be centers of life and hope which promote -- together with chaplaincies -- ethics committees, training programs for lay health workers, personal and compassionate care of the sick, attention to the needs of their families and a particular sensitivity to the poor and the marginalized....

4. This truth should be continuously repeated in the context of scientific progress and advances in medical techniques which seek to assist and improve the quality of human life. Indeed, it remains a fundamental precept that life is to [be] protected and defended, from its conception to its natural end.

As I stated in my Apostolic Letter
Novo Millennio Ineunte, "The service of humanity leads us to insist, in season and out of season, that those using the latest advances of science, especially in the field of biotechnology, must never disregard fundamental ethical requirements by invoking a questionable solidarity which eventually leads to discriminating between one life and another and ignoring the dignity which belongs to every human being" (No. 51).

The Church, which is open to genuine scientific and technological progress, values the effort and sacrifice of those who with dedication and professionalism help to improve the quality of the service rendered to the sick, respecting their inviolable dignity. Every therapeutic procedure, all experimentation and every transplant must take into account this fundamental truth. Thus it is never licit to kill one human being in order to save another. And while palliative treatment in the final stage of life can be encouraged, avoiding a "treatment at all costs" mentality, it will never be permissible to resort to actions or omissions which by their nature or in the intention of the person acting are designed to bring about death....

I entrust you all to the Immaculate Virgin, our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and Health of the Sick. May she hear the prayers that rise from the world of suffering, may she dry the tears of those in pain, may she stand beside those who are alone in their illness, and by her motherly intercession may she help believers who work in the field of health care to be credible witnesses to Christ's love.

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