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As chair of the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Episcopal Conference, I welcome Pope Francis message for the World Day of the Sick which takes place on, 11 February, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The past year has been an extraordinary one. As a deadly and disruptive virus circled the world, we became more acutely aware of the importance of healthcare provision and the contribution of those working on the frontline. Pope Francis, in his message, states that the World Day of the Sick provides an "opportunity to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care both in healthcare institutions and within families and communities".
The Pope reminds us that, as Christians, we should always practice what we preach and reach out in a tangible way to those who are sick and suffering, particularly the marginalised and the poor. Thankfully, so many people, through both secular and religious groups, are doing so by reaching out to those who most need help in their local communities. Such outreach has provided a beacon of hope and positivity in an otherwise challenging time.
Pope Francis emphasises that sickness makes us very aware of our own vulnerability, our need for the care and assistance of others and our dependence on God. Illness is experienced at more than just a physical level. It can also be accompanied by fear and bewilderment, particularly, when we are faced with our own powerless. Sickness normally raises questions about the meaning of life which we bring in faith before God.
The Pope also draws attention to how the current pandemic has highlighted and aggravated the "inequalities in healthcare systems and exposed inefficiencies in the care of the sick". This has come about because of many different factors: political decisions, the unequal distribution of resources and a lack of commitment to equal healthcare for all. Health is essential for the common good, therefore, care and assistance for the sick should always be a priority.
At the heart of the Pope's message is an insistence that for therapy to be effective it must have a "relational aspect" which can enable a more holistic approach to the patient. There must be a relationship of trust between healthcare professionals and those who receive their care and expertise. Pope Francis describes it as a relationship based on "mutual trust and respect, openness and availability". He points to the example of Jesus in the gospel who "heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship".
The Pope concludes his message by stating that a society is truly human when it cares effectively for the sick and suffering in a spirit of communal love. We must all strive to make sure "that no one will feel alone, excluded or abandoned".
Pope Francis entrusts the sick, healthcare workers, and all those who assist the suffering to the care of Our Lady. In the midst of the health crisis caused by Covid-19, I encourage all the faithful to take part in the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes, from 3-11 February, to pray for those who are sick, for all who work in the medical profession, and for an end to the pandemic.
Ahead of the celebration of the World Day of the Sick on 11 February 2021, the Bishops' Council for Healthcare offers the following Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes to pray for those who are sick, for all who work in the medical profession, and for an end to the pandemic. The Novena begins on Wednesday 3 February and concludes on Thursday 11 February – the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick.
1. Make the sign of the Cross
2. Say the novena prayer
3. Pray a decade of the rosary.
4. The invocations
5. Read the reflection for each day.
6. The Confiteor
7. To conclude recite the Act of Spiritual Communion
Our Lady of Lourdes,
you appeared at the grotto of Massabielle
to Bernadette, a simple shepherdess.
You brought her the radiant light of your smile,
the gentle, resplendent brightness of your presence.
Day by day, you built a relationship with her
where you gazed at her gently as one person talking to another.
We, too, come before you in our poverty,
and we humbly pray to you.
May those who doubt discover the joy of trust.
May those who despair sense your discreet presence.
Our Lady of Lourdes,
you revealed your name to Bernadette
by simply saying "I am the Immaculate Conception".
May we discover the joy of a forgiveness that never falters.
Instil in us the desire for a rediscovered innocence and a joyful holiness.
Help the blinded sinner.
You who gave birth to the Saviour of the world,
look tenderly on our beautiful but tragic world.
Open in us the path of hope,
Guide us to the One who is the Living Source,
Jesus, your Son, who teaches us to call God Father.
Decade of the Rosary
Wednesday 3rd – The first Glorious Mystery – The Resurrection
Thursday 4th – The First Luminous Mystery – The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan
Friday 5th – The First Sorrowful Mystery – The Agony in the Garden
Saturday 6th – The First Joyful Mystery – The Annunciation
Sunday 7th – The Second Glorious Mystery – The Ascension
Monday 8th – The Second Joyful Mystery – The Visitation
Tuesday 9th – The Second Sorrowful Mystery – The Scourging at the Pillar
Wednesday 10th – The Third Glorious Mystery – The Descent of the Holy Spirit
Thursday 11th – The Second Luminous Mystery – The Wedding Feast at Cana
"Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!"
"Saint Bernadette, pray for us!"
"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!"
Wednesday 3 February
In telling the parable of the 'Good Samaritan' Jesus offers his disciples a model of how we should behave towards others particularly towards those who are suffering. Noticing those who need our help, becoming a "neighbour", listening, empathy, compassion and action are all crucial. Reflect for a few moments in silence on how you are responding to Jesus invitation to be a 'Good Samaritan'.
Thursday 4 February
The experience of sickness makes us realize our own vulnerability, our innate need for others, and even more so, our dependence on God. Sickness can help us get closer to God, but sometimes, unfortunately, to move away from God as well. It can be a time of grace or a time of misfortune. Reflect for a few moments in silence on what your feelings towards God are in times of illness and suffering?
Friday 5 February
Sickness sometimes prompts a search for meaning in life and a new direction for our existence. We need to address this in our own experience but also to help others who are sick to find meaning in their experience as well. Reflect for a few moments in silence on the quality of your presence to those who are sick in your own circle of family and friends.
Saturday 6 February
There are some in our society who are ignored, excluded, or victims of social injustices that deny their fundamental rights, including the right of access to the necessary healthcare. Reflect for a few moments in silence on how access to healthcare, and other fundamental services, is granted to the vulnerable people in our society? How can we help our policy makers to promote healthcare as a common primary good?
Sunday 7 February
The Church, the community of lay faithful, religious and clergy together, is called to care and assist the needy who live among us. Reflect for a few moments on how much time I devote to volunteering to help our brothers and sisters in need?
Monday 8 February
During the pandemic, we have observed the dedication and generosity of health care professionals, and many other frontline workers. They have treated, comforted and served many sick, elderly and vulnerable people in our communities. Reflect for a few moments in silence on what we have learned from the dedication and commitment of frontline workers in healthcare, and in the wider community, and the hope that they bring to us for the future of our society.
Tuesday 9 February
During the past year we have rediscovered an appreciation for the gift of human life in all its stages and the lengths to which we go to protect and save life. Reflect for a few moments in silence on how we are called to guard and protect all human life as sacred.
Wednesday 10 February
Communal solidarity is expressed in various ways to support our neighbour. Caring for our sick and suffering brothers is not a task only for health care/pastoral workers. Christian love generates a healing community, that does not leave anyone behind, is inclusive and welcomes the most vulnerable. Reflect for a few moments in silence on how we can help build a community that reaches out to those who are most vulnerable.
Thursday 11 February – Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
At the heart of Pope Francis' message for this World Day of the Sick is an insistence that for therapy to be effective it must have a "relational aspect" which can enable a more holistic approach to the person who is sick or suffering. Pope Francis points to the example of Jesus in the gospel who "heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship". Reflect for a moment on how I can bring healing by developing a deeper relationship with those who need myassistance.
I confess to almighty God
and to you,
my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Act of Spiritual Communion
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
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