The Holy See
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National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Tuesday, 11 February 2003

Your Eminences, Excellencies,
dear priests and religious sisters,
Brothers and Sisters,

It is for me a great honor to represent the Holy Father John Paul the Second in this 11th World Day of the Sick. It is my duty to bring to you His blessings and greetings. His living testimony of pain and joy, reflect the painful and joyful face of Christ and give us the courage to overcome illness as well as death, through the solid hope of the resurrection, and to proclaim together with the Pope the Gospel of Life.

May I extend my cordial greetings to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the United States, and to the other 23 Conferences of Bishops of the American Countries, represented here at this memorable celebration of the 11th World Day of the Sick. The World Day of the Sick obviously concerns the whole world, but the choice to celebrate it in America, corresponds to the expressed desire of the Pope to have it every year on a different continent. This year, it was America's turn, and it marks the second celebration in America, since the first one was 7 years ago at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City.

In agreement with the Holy Father, we had proposed to celebrate it either in Argentina or in the United States. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the United States warmly accepted the proposal and made all the necessary arrangements for the celebration. We particularly thank Bishop Fiorenza, former President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the United States, and Bishop Gregory, the current President, both of whom worked with great enthusiasm for the realization of this event. Our greetings and very special thanks go to the Archdiocese of Washington and her worthy and dynamic Pastor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Together with his team, under the direction of Fr Michael Place, president of Catholic Health Association of the United States of American, and Dr Jane Belford, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, they shouldered the great and hard work of making the project of the 11th World Day of the Sick a reality. I would like to convey to Your Eminence and your team, the sincere and heartfelt thanks, both of the Holy Father and the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

May I also cordially greet all of you, priests, religious sisters, who are particularly involved in the Health Care Ministry, all health professionals, workers, volunteers of all America, and all of you my dear sisters and brothers present at this National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is a great honor to be with you working together for the good of our brothers and sisters, who are suffering under all kinds of sorrow, and for the good of the entire world plagued by suffering and pain, which often remind us of the reality of death. You, as an active part of the Church, are always engaged in finding adequate answers to great and important problems of mankind, namely: illness, pain, suffering, all kinds of evil, and death. Our world often neglects those problems and wishes to cover them up with a smoke-screen, or simply hide them. We are here to face them courageously and offer effective solutions. This is the ministry of the Church; this is the meaning of redemption and salvation. The Pontifical Council looks at the core of the problem and offers its collaboration in the effort of finding lasting solutions, through its specific task of Pastoral Health Care.

In this year's message for the World Day of the Sick, the Pope opens with a quotation from the first Letter of St John, where the Apostle tells us that: "We ourselves have seen and testify that the Father sent His Son, as Savior of the World ... and we have recognized ourselves and believe in the Love God has for us" (I Jn 4,14-16).

We are therefore, celebrating the World Day of the Sick under the sign of love. However, this celebration is not only a commemoration or an occasion to remember that all people must be compassionate towards the suffering world; that would be good, but still wanting. We have the power, not only to be compassionate, but also effectively to take away the sorrow and the anguish of this world. This is exactly our task in the liturgical celebration of the 11th World Day of the Sick. In the Holy Mass we have the experience of the whole of salvation.

According to our faith, here in the holy Sacrifice we offer to the world the only true solution to evil; in a word, the only solution to death. We don't hide death or minimize it; we know it as the greatest evil there is, but in the reality of the Mass as memorial of the Lord's Death and Resurrection, death becomes a fountain of life and happiness.

Today we often speak of the quality of life. In the Eucharist our life receives its true quality; here we find the authentic quality of life. Our quality of life consists in breaking through the dark limits of death and acquiring a life forever. The true quality of life ensues from our participation in the mystery of Christ, enabling us to be a reflection of the face of Christ, joyful and sorrowful at the same time. It is the victory of the paradox: The victory over death through the same death. In the Easter Liturgy we sing: "Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal" (Sequence of the Easter Sunday and the Octave).

In the mystery of faith and charity, Christ takes our sorrows and converts them into happiness; but the condition is that we must fervently awaken the virtue of hope. In this way, we become members of the Body of Christ, and the whole Church with her head, Christ, assumes the death of mankind and converts it into resurrection. This exactly constitutes Health Pastoral Care. This is the all-powerful love of God that from the "guilty nothing" of humanity on the cross creates again the new humanity in the full life of the resurrection of Christ.

If we ask ourselves about the identity of Catholic Health Pastoral Care, this paradox is the distinguishing mark for the Institutions and people that wish to be considered as Catholic health care professionals or workers.

The last hurdle is death, which causes trouble and disharmony. If death is destroyed we will have harmony and peace. By destroying death we will foster life and health. We will have life because harmony builds unity, and life is unity while death is disintegration. This is the reason why health is a tension towards harmony. So health pastoral care or ministry is a way of achieving harmony, unity, peace, life and health.

The way that leads to harmony is a long one. It means following the footsteps of Christ in building the human person. Therefore, the rule of Health Care Ministry is the continuous building of the person. In this way we can enunciate the main principle of Christian ethics What builds man is good, what destroys him is bad. As I said before, the paradox is that the only way by which death could build the human person is by accepting it and being with Christ on the cross. This is the only way, through which death can be converted into a fountain of life and resurrection.

Therefore, because through this Eucharistic Memorial on the 11th World Day of the Sick, we are in communion with Christ who died and rose, we are gathered here not just to awaken in us sentiments of compassion for suffering mankind, but to give the world the only way to overcome its sorrows, pains and sufferings. This is the mystery we are celebrating in the Eucharist and in the Anointing of the Sick that we will soon celebrate.

We are celebrating the World Day of the Sick on the day commemorating the apparitions of Our Lady in Lourdes; in those apparitions she said, she was the Immaculate Conception ("Soy era la Inmaculada Concepcion"). And we are gathered here at the National Shrine of the United States, properly dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This is a very appropriate setting for the meaning of our celebration.

In fact, the Immaculate Conception means the beginning of the creation of the perfect woman, Mary, whom God had in His eternal plan. In virtue of the grace of Christ, she is the model of human harmony, unity, life and health. Because of Her Immaculate Conception, her harmony is due to the full reception of the love of the Holy Spirit. May she pray for us, so that we may receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the strength of the resurrection of Christ. The love of the Holy Spirit gives us the unique capacity to believe, to overcome the paradox of death and to communicate with Christ, the only way to obtain the true health. So we ask Mary, because of Her Immaculate Conception, to pray for us, that we may lavishly receive the Holy Spirit, to help us give to the world a credible testimony of how to overcome death and obtain the true health. With the love of the Spirit and the intercession of Mary, we will understand better that only with faith, charity and hope can we overcome death and obtain true health. In this way, we can arrive at the root of all life and have the solid conviction that only love is credible.