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home : commentary : columns February 21, 2019

Ill persons, caregivers alike have dignity, mission in life
How parishes can commemorate World Day of the Sick

The following suggestions can take place at any time of year, but World Day of the Sick is a perfect time to consider some of these ideas and make plans to fulfill them in the coming weeks or months:

Increase the awareness of our fellow parishioners to the many who have disabilities or are sick, institutionalized or homebound among our own faith community through prayer and discussion about the needs of the sick.

"oTo remember in prayer all those who are unable to gather at the Table of the Lord due to illness, advanced age or other limitation via the Prayer of the Faithful, prayer groups or the parish bulletin prayers for the sick.

"oCatholic schoolchildren and religious education students can say special prayers for the sick at the start of class, or families can pray for the sick as they gather for grace before meals, bedtime or other family prayer times.

"oStudents or families can plan projects such as making cheerful cards for those in nursing homes; visiting a nursing home or even an elderly neighbor, sending thank you messages to a residence for retired priests or retired religious sisters.

"oRecruit parishioners to volunteer in various pastoral ministries such as homebound visitors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in hospitals, preparing meals for families experiencing a crisis or a loss, driving parishioners to Mass who no longer drive, or participating in prayer chains, knitting ministries, prayer shawl ministries or Rosary-making ministries, among others.

"oAcknowledge and thank those in your community who care for the sick, including family caregivers, chaplains, social workers, mental health care providers, and medical, nursing and other health care professionals. They may be asked to stand at the end of Mass, to be recognized, and to receive a special blessing.

"oTo raise awareness about the Sacrament of the Sick, particularly, that it is not just for the moment of imminent death, but can be offered at any time during an illness or before undergoing surgery or other serious treatment, or simply as one advances in age.

"oSome parishes may offer a Communal Celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick around World Day of the Sick or in the weeks following.

For more ideas on how to commemorate World Day of the Sick and information about a comprehensive diocesan training program for those interested in Pastoral Care Ministries, visit the Diocese’s Pastoral Care website at or contact Deanna Sass, director of Pastoral Care, at 

Information provided by Deanna Sass, diocesan director of Pastoral Care.

World Day of the Sick was first introduced in 1992 by St. Pope John Paul II as a time of prayer and sharing of one’s suffering. On Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, the Church will commemorate the 26th annual World Day of the Sick.

It coincides with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes because of the association of Lourdes with countless miraculous healings of the sick and disabled, which have taken place in Lourdes, France, on the site of the 18 apparitions of the Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis recently wrote about how Bernadette felt that “Mary was looking at her as a person. The Lovely Lady spoke to her with great respect and without condescension.” His Holiness reflects that, “this reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life. They never become simply objects. If at times they appear merely passive, in reality that is never the case.”

World Day of the Sick has become a day when we remember not only those among us who are suffering with illness or disability, but also those who offer care. From family caregivers to medical professionals, from chaplains and social workers to volunteers who visit the sick in hospitals or in their own homes, from mental health care providers to nurses, from hospital administrators to those who bring Holy Communion to the sick, all are part of the tapestry of care for the sick, responding to our calling as Christians to do so. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-37)

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., wrote in his 2017 World Day of the Sick statement, “Christians have always been encouraged by the compassion of the Lord Jesus toward the sick in the Gospels. The Church has carried on his ministry from its earliest days, offering healing, strengthening faith, inspiring hope, sharing love following his example. That ministry continues to be a work of Mercy for all believers.”  Bishop O’Connell leads by his own example, as he is often found at the bedside of the sick and dying, sharing his priestly gifts, offering the Sacrament of the Sick, as well as his prayers and his pastoral presence. 

As Catholics, we can share in fulfilling the works of Mercy by contacting our own parishes to ask about volunteering to visit the sick in local hospitals or nursing homes, or bringing Holy Communion to the homebound. Many parishes offer outreach to those in need of meals during a time of illness or after a loss; others try to find parishioners who can offer rides to Mass to their neighbors who no longer drive.  “Seek, and you shall find” ways to serve! 

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, writes on this occasion, “To Mary, Mother of tender love, we wish to entrust all those who are ill in body and soul, that she may sustain them in hope. We ask her also to help us to be welcoming to our sick brothers and sisters. The Church knows that she requires a special grace to live up to her evangelical task of serving the sick … May the Virgin Mary intercede for this twenty-sixth World Day of the Sick; may she help all those who care for them. To all, the sick, to health care workers and to volunteers, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.” 



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