Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Let us pray for all the sick, especially those most seriously ill, who cannot provide for themselves in any way, but are completely dependent on the care of others; may each of them experience, in the concern of those beside him, the power of God's love and the riches of his saving grace. Mary, health of the sick, pray for us!" This is the appeal of Benedict XVI on the occasion of the World Day of the Sick, which is celebrated on February 11 each year, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which the pontiff recalled today during the Angelus in St. Peter's Square. The appeal comes at a significant time in Italy, where there is controversy over the case of Eluana Englaro, a 38-year-old woman who spent 17 years in a coma, but breathed on her own. Her physicians, with the consent of her father, decided to remove her nutrition and hydration. The woman was transferred last February 3 from Lecco to Udine, to the clinic "La Quiete," where she was made to die from hunger and thirst, while she was given sedatives to keep her from feeling pain.
The government tried to pass a law prohibiting the withholding of food and water from the sick, which should not be considered "aggressive therapies." Its rejection by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano made the decree ineffective. The government then drafted a law which it wants to pass quickly, to stop what is described as "the execution," "the homicide" of Eluana Englaro, which risks introducing a form of euthanasia into Italy.
Many cardinals and bishops have talked about the dramatic Englaro case. The pope has never spoken about it directly, but in recent days he has appealed against euthanasia and has emphasized the dignity of life, including for those who are incurably ill. Above all, the pontiff has always highlighted the responsibility of the Christian communities to accompany the sick and families with seriously ill members (see Pope: Witnessing to charity through presence to suffering children and their families).
Today as well, speaking about the Sunday Gospel (Mark 1:29-39), Benedict XVI first of all recalled Jesus, who "heals a multitude of persons afflicted with evils of every kind." And then he explained: "The work of Jesus is extended in the mission of the Church. Through the sacraments, it is Christ who communicates his life to multitudes of brothers and sisters, while he heals and comforts countless sick through the many health care activities that the Christian communities carry out with fraternal charity. It is true: how many Christians - priests, religious, and laity - have lent and continue to lend in every part of the world their hands, their eyes, and their hearts to Christ, the true physician of souls and bodies!"
Benedict XVI also spoke about "the meaning and value of illness in every situation in which the human being can find himself." "In spite of the fact that sickness is part of the human experience," he said, "we are unable to accustom ourselves to it, not only because it sometimes becomes truly burdensome and serious, but essentially because we are made for life. Our 'internal instinct' rightly makes us think of God as the fullness of life, and moreover as eternal and perfect Life. When we are tested by suffering and our prayers seem to be in vain, doubts arise within us, and in anguish we ask: what is the will of God? It is to this question that we find an answer in the Gospel. For example, in today's passage we read that 'Jesus healed many who were afflicted with various illnesses, and cast out many demons' (Mark 2:34); in another passage from St. Matthew, it says that 'Jesus went through all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every sort of illness and infirmity among the people' (Mt. 4:23). Jesus leaves no doubt: God - whose face he himself has revealed to us - is the God of life, who delivers us from all evil. The signs of his power of love are the healings that he performs. In this way he demonstrates that the kingdom of God is near, by restoring men and women to their full integrity in spirit and body. This makes it clear why his preaching and healing always go together: they form a single message of hope and salvation."
On the occasion of the World Day of the Sick, the pontiff recalled that on February 11 in St. Peter's Basilica, a Mass will be held presided over by the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, Cardinale Lozano Barragán. That afternoon, the pope will meet with the sick and pilgrims in the basilica. Benedict XVI added: "As of now, I assure my special blessing to all the sick, to health care workers, and to volunteers in every part of the world."
After the Marian prayer, the pope asked Catholics all over the world to unite in prayer with the faithful of Madagascar, where for weeks there have been clashes and demonstrations between the police and the population, which is criticizing the economic decisions of the president and the reduction of civil liberties. For this reason, the bishops of the island have called for a day of prayer today, on behalf of national reconciliation and social justice. "I invite you," the pope said, "to unite yourselves with the Catholics of Madagascar to entrust to the Lord those who have died in the demonstrations, and to implore from him, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the return of harmony, social tranquility, and civil coexistence."