The 27th World Day of the Sick will be celebrated by Pope Francis in Kolkata, India on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes on 11 February 2019.
In his message, the Pope highlights St Teresa of Calcutta as a “model of charity who made visible God’s love for the poor and sick,” in holding up the mission of St Teresa as an “eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor.”
The Pope opens his message by meditating on the call to adopt an attitude and spirituality of Gospel generosity based on Mt. 10:8 “You received without payment; give without payment.” He points out that that generous gestures, “like that of the Good Samaritan,” are the “most credible means of evangelisation.”
Professional care of the sick is thus seen as a call to generous service to the poor. Pope Francis goes on to point out that this care “requires professionalism, tenderness, straightforward and simple gestures freely given, like a caress that makes others feel loved.”
He then expands on life as a gift from God that challenges today’s culture of “individualism and social fragmentation.” In recognising the nature of this gift, the Pope calls everyone caring for the sick to give of oneself, and to establish a relationship with the sick which is founded on their own limitations and vulnerabilities as ‘creatures’.
In that we are all ‘creatures’, and not the creator, we need to cultivate an attitude and a spirituality of humility that both inspires and guides our care of the sick. In this way, we nurture “a fraternal relationship with others,” and cultivate a practice of “solidarity as an essential virtue in life.”
The Good Samaritan is held up as a model of Gospel Generosity, which “inspires and sustains the work” of many who volunteer their time and service in care of the sick. This spirit of generosity makes it possible “for the sick to pass from being passive recipients of care to being active participants in a relationship that can restore hope and inspire openness to further treatment.” Volunteer work passes on values, behaviours and ways of living born of a deep desire to be generous. It is also a means of making health care more humane.
Catholic health care facilities are called to cultivate and nurture this spirit of generosity, “to give an example of self-giving, generosity and solidarity in response to the mentality of profit at any price, of giving for the sake of getting, and of exploitation over concern for people.”
The Pope concludes by pointing out that health is very much 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. The joy of generous giving is a barometer of the health of a Christian.”
He closes his message by entrusting all of us to Mary, to help us to “to share the gifts we have received in the spirit of dialogue and mutual acceptance, to live as brothers and sisters attentive to each other’s needs, to give from a generous heart, and to learn the joy of selfless service to others.”
Dr Michael Tan is a retired GP in formation for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Parramatta. He has just been appointed to the Executive of the Catholic Medical Association in NSW.