Pope Francis kissing a sick man at the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria in Cagliari, Sardinia. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News ServicePope Francis kissing a sick man at the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria in Cagliari, Sardinia. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

February 11 is World Day of the Sick, an observation started by Pope John Paul II as a way for believers to offer prayers for those suffering from illnesses.

The Pope himself had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s a year before, in 1991, and it is considered that his own illness acted as impetus for his designation of the day.

World Day of the Sick was first observed on February 11, 1993. February 11 is also the Catholic feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a name given to the Virgin Mary in honour of the apparitions that were said to have taken place in and around Lourdes, France, by a young girl called Bernadette Soubirous. The Church canonised Bernadette as a saint several years later.

Pope Francis is commending the 22nd World Day of the Sick to the intercession of Mary, so that she will help sick people to live their own suffering in communion with Jesus Christ.

The theme for this year is ‘Faith and charity: we too must give our lives for the brethren’.

Observation was started by Pope John Paul II

The Pope begins his five-point message by saying “the Church sees in you, dear sick people, the special presence of the suffering Christ and he goes on to say that God gives us the courage to face each adversity with him and united to Him”.

In his second point, Pope Francis underlines the fact that although the Son of God made man has not taken away human disease and suffering, he has taken them on to himself, transforming and reducing them because, as the Holy Father explains, they no longer have the last word.

The Pope continues by saying that the true test of faith in Christ is the gift of oneself to spread the love for one’s neighbour, especially for those who do not deserve it , for those who suffer and for those who are marginalised.

In the third part of his message, he highlights that we should approach those who are in need of care with tenderness. He continues this theme in the penultimate part of his message, saying that “to grow in tenderness, and charity, we have a model Christian” – the Mother of Jesus, who is attentive to the voice of God and the needs and difficulties of his children.

Concluding his message, the Holy Father returns to the figure of St John, the disciple who was with Mary at the foot of the Cross.

He stresses that it is this saint that takes us back to the source of faith and charity, to the heart of God who “is love” and he reminds us that we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbour.