The Holy See
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Shrine of Our Lady in Lourdes, France
Wednesday, 11 February 2004


Though utopias express ardent desires of the heart, they may become dangerous because they remain within the sphere of fantasies and thus estrange us from reality. However, they serve as a stimulus to progress and in their own way reflect the teleological axis of every culture.

When an extraordinary utopia becomes an astounding reality, then this utopia which has become "topia" life, naked reality, constitutes in fact the authentic cultural axis that is worthy of being called real universal cultural teleology.

This happened with the death and Resurrection of Christ: culture is life and anti-culture is death. The only goal of culture is life; and when the terror of death hangs over life every day, true culture will consist in finding an antidote for death.

Man has always searched for this remedy in every time and place. However, in our days, tired of the search that seemed useless to him, he takes refuge in a paralyzing scepticism that is associated with the epicurism of the predominant economic globalization, in conformity with the maxim of "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die".

Inebriated by technological progress, modern man strongly reacts against anything that invites him to raise his head, look beyond the daily routine and focus on the true horizon of life in the historical reality of God-made-man, by the benefit of whom he overcomes death through his Resurrection. If he accepts this horizon, then culture acquires its true meaning in the rich mystery of infinite newness, which sets the virtue of hope as the central driving force of a history that progresses towards an unexpected novelty.

It is exactly with this background that we thought about celebrating the 12th World Day of the Sick in Lourdes, reflecting on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and its relationship to health within the context of the Christian roots of Europe. We therefore intend to renew Health Pastoral Care in the world, especially in Europe, through the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of this Dogma.

In his Message for this World Day of the Sick, which we listened to a little while ago, the Holy Father John Paul II tells us that "the Immaculate Conception foreshadowed the harmonious intertwining of the "yes' of God and the "yes' that Mary would pronounce.... This "yes' of hers on behalf of mankind reopened the doors of Heaven to the world, thanks to the incarnation of the Word of God in her womb through the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1: 35). In this way, the original project of creation was restored and strengthened in Christ, and in this project she, the Virgin Mother, also found a place".

"Here is to be encountered the keystone of history: with the Immaculate Conception of Mary began the great work of the Redemption, which was actuated in the Precious Blood of Christ. In him every person is called to fulfil himself or herself to the full perfection of holiness (cf. Col 1: 28). The Immaculate Conception was thus the dawn that promised the radiant day of Christ, who, by his death and Resurrection, would re-establish full harmony between God and mankind. If Jesus is the source of life that defeats death, Mary is the caring mother who meets the hopes of her children by obtaining for them the health of their souls and bodies. This is the message that the sanctuary of Lourdes constantly re-proposes to the devout and to pilgrims. This is also the meaning of the corporeal and spiritual healings that take place in the grotto of Massabielle" (cf. Message for the 12th World Day of the Sick, 1 December 2003, nn. 2-3).

The Christian culture of Europe bears in its most important elements the desire to understand nature in its basic constitution and transform it for its own utility; the desire for universal cohabitation, promoted by the objective social organization through appropriate laws; the acknowledgement and respect for creation as a gift of God to man; and as the key factor and only valid teleology of the whole history of humanity, the Incarnation of the Son of God and his salvific death and Resurrection, to which we incorporate ourselves to overcome evil and obtain salvation.

The last two fundamental elements are deeply inculturated in the first two, thus making the sum total of all four the basic root of the European culture.

However, we realize at the same time that these are contested in the modern and post-modern society. Above all, the central fact is rejected: that is, Christ as the only salvation and decisive teleology of history and culture.

Amid the negation of the Christian Transcendence, there is no wonder that health is defined as "a state of perfect physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of illness", ending up in this way in a mere utopia, since this kind of health is but only an illusion.

In the Jubilee Year Message for the World Day of the Sick 2000, Pope John Paul II rather uses a more distinct description. Though he agrees that health does not consist in the mere absence of illness, he does not consider it as a state of perfect well-being. Rather, he defines it as a tension towards harmony which is not only physical, mental and social, but also psychic and spiritual (cf. Jubilee Message for the World Day of the Sick 2000).

In today's Message the Pope speaks to us about the intertwining between the "yes" of God, which he had in the original project for creating man, and the "yes" that Mary pronounces on behalf of all mankind in order to become the Mother of God. It is here that the fullness of the harmony which had been distorted in the past by the first sin of man is realized. The second Adam is then born, the true first man in total harmony with God, Christ the Lord. He is the Son of the second Eve, the true Mother of the living, Mary, in perfect harmony with God from the very moment of her conception: her Immaculate Conception.

This Marian harmony would have to be very painful; it meant the Passion and the Cross together with Christ: it is the sword of pain prophesied by Simeon. True, this was harmony with suffering, but victorious in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ: and this victory meant the Assumption of Mary.

The Immaculate Conception led Mary to the complete harmony and total health in the Assumption, through the painful way of the Cross. In her, the Christian model of true health, which in her Son hung on the Cross and blossomed in the Resurrection, is portrayed. Since then, the right tension towards the only possible harmony is the glorious Cross.

We can therefore say that health is not just the absence of illness. Rather, it is the physical, psychic, social and spiritual glorious Cross, which is actually the only acceptable tension towards true harmony. Here the cross is "spiritualized"; or rather, the Holy Spirit, due to his all-powerful love, makes sure that the cross of awful death becomes the glorious Cross, source of life and happiness, of true harmony and true health. "Ubi salus mundi pependit".

This joy urges us to procrastinate and to already have the solid hope of resurrection, because the love of the Spirit demands healing as a sign of the Kingdom of God that is already present. This is the significance of the miracles done by Christ, and this is the meaning of the Christian paradigm of health which is the Logo of our Dicastery: the Good Samaritan.

Understanding the Immaculate Conception as fullness of harmony would be returning to the Christian roots of European culture in a truly renewed way. It would also mean understanding Lourdes as a place where God on several occasions grants healing through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, applying the redemption that Christ offers to us. In this way, Lourdes becomes a privileged centre for the New Evangelisation of European culture as a sign of the actual presence of the Kingdom of God, which is harmony, peace and health in the birth of a new community of nations that wants to rise vigorous and abounding, away from the impairment of seeking mere economic interests.

May the Lord Jesus, through the Immaculate Conception of his Mother, grant new vigour to the European culture so that it may embrace the new evangelization which starts from the health in this Sanctuary of Lourdes, in order to truly inculturate the Gospel message in the innermost roots of the New Europe.

May health, understood as harmony, peace, joy, happiness, technical, scientific and medical progress that is respectful of human life and used for the benefit of all, be the maternal mantle with which the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, covers her children who venerate her with so much love.