World Day of the Sick: You are not alone

February 9, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.


Sickness is always an unwelcome guest in the “home” of our bodies. Whether its visit is brief or long, expected or unanticipated, recognized or subtle, sickness’ knock on the door is one that no one wants to answer. Try as one may to keep it out, sickness eventually finds its way in and — like an obnoxious houseguest — takes over every room, leaving its hosts to wonder if it will ever leave. The analogy here, although not very poetic, makes the point for which it is intended.

The universal experience of COVID acquainted the entire world with “sickness” in the form of a pandemic that just does not seem to be in any hurry to leave us as it morphs and changes into highly transmissible variants with new names and potentially dangerous symptoms. Hundreds of millions of cases have been reported worldwide claiming multi-millions of lives so far: statistics that have shaken the world’s population to its core, turning life as we know it on its head. Will this “unwelcome guest” ever leave? Will life ever return to “some kind of normal?”

Awareness of sicknesses of mind and body, however, is not uniquely occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic that we have faced in recent years. Humanity has faced the reality of sickness and disease from the beginning of time as part of the human condition. In his 1993 message introducing the first “World Day of the Sick,” Pope St. John Paul II, himself afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, wrote:

The Christian community has always paid particular attention to the sick and the world of suffering in its multiple manifestations. In the wake of such a long tradition, the universal Church, with a renewed spirit of service, is preparing to celebrate the first World Day of the Sick as a special occasion for growth, with an attitude of listening, reflection, and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness. This day, which, beginning in February 1993, will be celebrated every year on the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes, for all believers seeks to be "a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one's suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind" (Letter Instituting the World Day of the Sick, 13 May 1992, n. 3).

The day seeks, moreover, to involve all people of good will. Indeed, the basic questions posed by the reality of suffering and the appeal to bring both physical and spiritual relief to the sick do not concern believers alone, but challenge all mankind, marked by the limitations of the mortal condition.

Every pope since that time has published a message addressing the reality of human sickness and the importance of showing love and compassion to those afflicted by sickness and disease.

In his annual message for “World Day of the Sick” this year, Pope Francis wrote:

Brothers and sisters, the first form of care needed in any illness is compassionate and loving closeness. To care for the sick thus means above all to care for their relationships, all of them: with God, with others — family members, friends, healthcare workers —, with creation and with themselves. Can this be done? Yes, it can be done and all of us are called to ensure that it happens. Let us look to the icon of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37), to his ability to slow down and draw near to another person, to the tender love with which he cares for the wounds of a suffering brother.

Let us remember this central truth in life: we came into the world because someone welcomed us; we were made for love; and we are called to communion and fraternity. This aspect of our lives is what sustains us, above all at times of illness and vulnerability. It is also the first therapy that we must all adopt in order to heal the diseases of the society in which we live.

To those of you who experience illness, whether temporary or chronic, I would say this: Do not be ashamed of your longing for closeness and tenderness! Do not conceal it, and never think that you are a burden on others. The condition of the sick urges all of us to step back from the hectic pace of our lives in order to rediscover ourselves.

The sick, the vulnerable and the poor are at the heart of the Church; they must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention. May we never forget this! And let us commend ourselves to Mary Most Holy, Health of the Sick, that she may intercede for us and help us to be artisans of closeness and fraternal relationships.

So many of us know personally what it means to confront sickness and the impact it can have on one’s life. For all of us in The Diocese of Trenton, let’s use the “World Day of the Sick” this year to be mindful of the sick and suffering among us: those in hospitals and nursing homes, especially those receiving palliative or hospice care; those at home, whether alone or with families; those who bear the burden of sickness or disease as they carry on their daily lives each day; those who are disabled and physically impeded; those who struggle with mental or emotional illness. “World Day of the Sick” is “their day” and gives us the opportunity to pray for them as, in the words of Pope Francis, they “touch the suffering flesh of Christ.” They need our prayers, our encouragement and support, our compassion and comfort and merciful love. They need our “healing presence.” At the same time, let us also remember all those caretakers and caregivers in all the many ways they minister to the sick and suffering. This is “their day,” too, and they deserve our support and heartfelt thanks.

As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I invite you to join me in this prayer published by the Catholic Health Association:

Hear our prayer, O God, and heal the many illnesses that afflict us in body, mind and soul. Bring comfort to those who suffer. Bring consolation to those who despair. Bring strength to those of us who walk with the sick. Bring hope to all for whom the path to healing is long or may not end. Let us never forget your special care for the sick, that they may also know they are precious and loved. Amen.

O Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, pray for us!


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Sickness is always an unwelcome guest in the “home” of our bodies. Whether its visit is brief or long, expected or unanticipated, recognized or subtle, sickness’ knock on the door is one that no one wants to answer. Try as one may to keep it out, sickness eventually finds its way in and — like an obnoxious houseguest — takes over every room, leaving its hosts to wonder if it will ever leave. The analogy here, although not very poetic, makes the point for which it is intended.

The universal experience of COVID acquainted the entire world with “sickness” in the form of a pandemic that just does not seem to be in any hurry to leave us as it morphs and changes into highly transmissible variants with new names and potentially dangerous symptoms. Hundreds of millions of cases have been reported worldwide claiming multi-millions of lives so far: statistics that have shaken the world’s population to its core, turning life as we know it on its head. Will this “unwelcome guest” ever leave? Will life ever return to “some kind of normal?”

Awareness of sicknesses of mind and body, however, is not uniquely occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic that we have faced in recent years. Humanity has faced the reality of sickness and disease from the beginning of time as part of the human condition. In his 1993 message introducing the first “World Day of the Sick,” Pope St. John Paul II, himself afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, wrote:

The Christian community has always paid particular attention to the sick and the world of suffering in its multiple manifestations. In the wake of such a long tradition, the universal Church, with a renewed spirit of service, is preparing to celebrate the first World Day of the Sick as a special occasion for growth, with an attitude of listening, reflection, and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness. This day, which, beginning in February 1993, will be celebrated every year on the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes, for all believers seeks to be "a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one's suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind" (Letter Instituting the World Day of the Sick, 13 May 1992, n. 3).

The day seeks, moreover, to involve all people of good will. Indeed, the basic questions posed by the reality of suffering and the appeal to bring both physical and spiritual relief to the sick do not concern believers alone, but challenge all mankind, marked by the limitations of the mortal condition.

Every pope since that time has published a message addressing the reality of human sickness and the importance of showing love and compassion to those afflicted by sickness and disease.

In his annual message for “World Day of the Sick” this year, Pope Francis wrote:

Brothers and sisters, the first form of care needed in any illness is compassionate and loving closeness. To care for the sick thus means above all to care for their relationships, all of them: with God, with others — family members, friends, healthcare workers —, with creation and with themselves. Can this be done? Yes, it can be done and all of us are called to ensure that it happens. Let us look to the icon of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37), to his ability to slow down and draw near to another person, to the tender love with which he cares for the wounds of a suffering brother.

Let us remember this central truth in life: we came into the world because someone welcomed us; we were made for love; and we are called to communion and fraternity. This aspect of our lives is what sustains us, above all at times of illness and vulnerability. It is also the first therapy that we must all adopt in order to heal the diseases of the society in which we live.

To those of you who experience illness, whether temporary or chronic, I would say this: Do not be ashamed of your longing for closeness and tenderness! Do not conceal it, and never think that you are a burden on others. The condition of the sick urges all of us to step back from the hectic pace of our lives in order to rediscover ourselves.

The sick, the vulnerable and the poor are at the heart of the Church; they must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention. May we never forget this! And let us commend ourselves to Mary Most Holy, Health of the Sick, that she may intercede for us and help us to be artisans of closeness and fraternal relationships.

So many of us know personally what it means to confront sickness and the impact it can have on one’s life. For all of us in The Diocese of Trenton, let’s use the “World Day of the Sick” this year to be mindful of the sick and suffering among us: those in hospitals and nursing homes, especially those receiving palliative or hospice care; those at home, whether alone or with families; those who bear the burden of sickness or disease as they carry on their daily lives each day; those who are disabled and physically impeded; those who struggle with mental or emotional illness. “World Day of the Sick” is “their day” and gives us the opportunity to pray for them as, in the words of Pope Francis, they “touch the suffering flesh of Christ.” They need our prayers, our encouragement and support, our compassion and comfort and merciful love. They need our “healing presence.” At the same time, let us also remember all those caretakers and caregivers in all the many ways they minister to the sick and suffering. This is “their day,” too, and they deserve our support and heartfelt thanks.

As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I invite you to join me in this prayer published by the Catholic Health Association:

Hear our prayer, O God, and heal the many illnesses that afflict us in body, mind and soul. Bring comfort to those who suffer. Bring consolation to those who despair. Bring strength to those of us who walk with the sick. Bring hope to all for whom the path to healing is long or may not end. Let us never forget your special care for the sick, that they may also know they are precious and loved. Amen.

O Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, pray for us!

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