“It is not good for man to be alone. Healing the sick by healing relationships” is the theme of the message of Pope Francis for the 2024 World Day of the Sick, held today, February 11.
In his message, the pope explores the fundamental importance and healing power of our relationships with others and with God. Drawing on God’s words about Adam in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen 2:18), he notes that God’s first thought for the first human being was that he should be in communion and relationship with other beings.
From the beginning, God, who is love, created us for communion and gave us an innate capacity to enter into relationships with others. Our lives, reflecting the communion that is the life of the Trinity, are meant to find fulfilment through a network of relationships, friendships and love. Since this communion is so deeply rooted in the human heart, we feel the experience of abandonment and solitude as something painful and inhuman. This is all the more so at times of vulnerability, uncertainty and insecurity.
We all remember how many people found themselves frightfully alone during the COVID-19 pandemic: the patients who could not receive visitors, and the many nurses, doctors and support personnel overwhelmed by work and enclosed in isolation wards. Many persons had to face the hour of their death assisted only by healthcare personnel, but far from their own families.
In any illness, the first form of care needed is compassionate and loving closeness, as Jesus showed us so well
Pope Francis says that, today, old age and sickness are frequently experienced in solitude and, at times, even in abandonment. In many instances, this sad reality is a consequence of the culture of individualism that exalts productivity at all costs, cultivates the myth of efficiency, and is indifferent to the plight of individuals who no longer have the strength needed to keep pace. It then becomes a throwaway culture, in which “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor or disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly” (Fratelli Tutti, par. 18).
In any illness, the first form of care needed is compassionate and loving closeness, as Jesus showed us so well. 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. Pope Francis encourages us to 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 is the first therapy we must adopt to heal the diseases of the society in which we live.
The celebration of World Day of the Sick provides the opportunity to thank all those who daily care for the sick and the vulnerable in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice services and in their homes, as well as those who offer pastoral care through chaplaincy services and parish ministry.
It encourages us to take concrete steps to accompany those who are ill and isolated through prayer and acts of solidarity. Let us continue the mission of Jesus today by tending to the wounds of solitude and isolation.
Mgr Joseph Galea-Curmi is Auxiliary Bishop of the Malta Archdiocese.