Friday 11 February is World Day of the Sick, and 2022 is the thirtieth year since its establishment by Pope John Paul II in 1992. The theme for this year is: ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36). In his message, Pope Francis praises the work of Catholic healthcare institutions and reflects on what it means to speak of God as ‘merciful’.

Father of mercy

‘Mercy,’ the pontiff said, ‘is God’s name par excellence; mercy, understood not as an occasional sentimental feeling but as an ever-present and active force, expresses God’s very nature.’

Mercy, he said, is a combination of ‘strength and tenderness’, of motherhood and fatherhood.

God cares for us with the strength of a father and the tenderness of a mother.’

The supreme example of God the Father’s mercy is the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus. One of the central aspects of Jesus’ ministry on earth was the healing of the sick. This was so important to Him that he made it ‘paramount to the mission of the apostles.’

Pope Francis pushes us to ask why this is the case.

Pain and isolation

Quoting the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, Francis said:

Pain isolates in an absolute way, and absolute isolation gives rise to the need to appeal to the other, to call out to the other.’

The experience of isolation worsens the condition of the sick, as their hearts become heavy and their fears, uncertainties, and frailty become an unbearable burden.

In this regard, Pope Francis remembers those who, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, have died in isolation, without the ability to see their loved ones. This is not the first time Francis has called out policies that cruelly separate dying patients from their families. In Fratelli Tutti he said simply:

They did not have to die that way’ (§19).

‘Houses of mercy’

The pope reminded us that throughout history, the preaching of the Gospel has always been accompanied by the ‘construction of hospitals, dispensaries and care homes.’ Following in the footsteps of Christ, it has always been a practical way of showing the love of Christ and making His love ‘more credible’ to the skeptical. They pour out the 'balm of consolation' and the 'wine of hope' on the wounds of the sick, which is God's own balm and God's own wine.

This World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis asks us to reflect on and pray for healthcare workers, to remember the ‘dignity’ of their profession and their ‘responsibilities.’

Your hands, which touch the suffering flesh of Christ, can be a sign of the merciful hands of the Father.’