Healthcare Ministry: A “Necessary and Fundamental Task”
This day was begun by Pope John Paul ll in 1992, soon after he had developed Parkinson’s disease. The day is intended for Christians around the world to pray for those who are sick and for their caregivers.
The day coincides with the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. I have always found the phenomenon of Lourdes to be fascinating. I tried to go there on one trip to France, but the crowds were so thick that I just kept driving. The only city in France with more hotel rooms than Lourdes is Paris. It is that popular a destination.
In 1858, a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous was with her sisters in the French countryside where they lived when she saw a small figure that she called “the Lady”. Although no one, at first, seemed to believe her, she soon came to trust that the apparition was Mary, the mother of Jesus.
After several encounters, Bernadette was instructed by “the Lady” to dig a hole which revealed a small stream. At first the water was muddy, but it soon became clear.
Almost immediately, the water was believed to have healing properties. Within a few weeks, as more and more people came to believe Bernadette’s story, people began flocking to the stream seeking to drink from what they believed were healing waters. Quickly, people declared they were cured.
The Catholic Church and local authorities tried to negate the claims and blocked off the grotto where Bernadette saw “the Lady”. It was to no avail. The crowds came with hope to be healed from the spring.
Both the Church and medical authorities were skeptical of claims of miraculous healing. Almost immediately, such claims were subjected to medical examinations. One by one, cases emerged that had no scientific explanation.
Pilgrimages to Lourdes became routine as people sought to drink the healing waters.
As of today, more than 7,000 cases have been submitted to the Church claiming a miraculous healing as a result of drinking the water from Lourdes. Sixty-nine cases have been declared “beyond medical explanation.”
A few years ago, the water was examined searching for any unusual elements. None were found. It is just common spring water.
So, what do I make of the mystery of Lourdes and the Pope’s declaration of a World Day of the Sick? I can only say that we will never fully understand God’s presence in the world. It remains a mystery of how God’s healing hand is felt in our lives.
Pope Francis’ words resonate with me in every way. He said, “Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power…The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion.” This is, in so many words, exactly what we have tried to do at Church Health since 1987.
He went on to say that healthcare ministry is a “necessary and fundamental task” of the Church, and he challenged Catholic hospitals that have turned healthcare into a “profit-making enterprise, which ends up discarding the poor.”
I would say that this pope has taken World Day of the Sick to a whole new level. We do not need to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes to experience God’s healing in our midst, we just need to commit ourselves in our own communities to seeking God’s healing presence in our midst. And if we do, we might have our own experience of “the Lady”.