In Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Sick, he emphasizes that the Church’s core focus is on the sick, the vulnerable, and the poor, urging us to prioritize them in our compassion and pastoral care. The Holy Father highlights the importance of maintaining this focus and encourages seeking the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the Health of the Sick, to guide us in cultivating close and fraternal relationships.
February 11th is World Day of the Sick, an observation introduced by St. Pope John Paul II as a way for believers to offer prayers for those suffering from illnesses. Pope Francis’ message for the 2024 World Day of the Sick will be celebrated under the biblical quote from Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
The day coincides with the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes and is an important opportunity for all the faithful to reflect on caring for those who are sick as well as those who provide care for them.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwest France is associated with the sick because of the presence of a miraculous spring from which many people have obtained physical healing.
Andreas Thonhauser, EWTN Vatican Bureau Chief, sat down with the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, His Excellency Jean-Marc Micas, P.S.S., to speak about the attraction of Lourdes for so many pilgrims.
When asked why so many pilgrims and others come to Lourdes, the Bishop Micas responded, “They find in Lourdes something unique. The experience of Bernadette, the Grotto of Massabielle, the message she received from the Virgin Mary for the priests and for the world, for the Church, for the world, touches the hearts of all and the experiences and the lives of everyone, everywhere. And there is a very special atmosphere here and all the people who come to Lourdes and make an experience, unique experience, of fraternity, of the presence of God, almost sentiments of respect, of healing, inner healing first of all, and sometimes also a real physical healing too, and not officially recognized all of them as miracles, but many, many people come here because here they find humanity, really human.”
The Sanctuary of Lourdes was founded on the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to a poor, fourteen-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubiroux. The first apparition occurred on February 11, 1858. There were eighteen apparitions in total, the last one taking place on July 16th of the same year.
When asked what importance Bernadette carries today and why so many take inspiration from her, Bishop Micas spoke about God’s providential choice, saying, “That God always chooses the simple, the poor, and the humble. Bernadette was really nothing in the eyes of the population of Rhodes at that time. When she arrived as a young religious in Navarre, all the sisters had heard about Lourdes and about her, but they had never seen her before, and when they saw her arriving in their monastery in Navarre, they said, ‘That is Bernadette?’ They were disappointed because she was so humble, so simple, and I think this is something that Bernadette has to teach us today: God gives us lessons and importantly words through people unexpectedly.”
The vision Bernadette saw in the hollow of the rock Massabielle was that of a young and beautiful lady “lovelier than I have ever seen.” The apparition spoke to Bernadette and told her to drink from a mysterious fountain in the grotto. Water immediately gushed forth. On another occasion, the apparition told Bernadette to go and tell the priests she wished a chapel to be built on the spot, and for processions to be made to the grotto.
Four years later, in 1862, the bishop of the diocese declared the faithful “justified in believing the reality of the apparition.” A basilica was built upon the rock of Massabielle by Abbé Dominique Peyramale, the parish priest, and, in 1873, the great national French pilgrimages were inaugurated. Pope Leo XIII authorized a special office and a Mass, in commemoration of the apparition, and, in 1907, Pius X extended the observance of this feast to the entire Church which is now observed on February 11th.
The Sanctuary of Lourdes embodies the faithful’s hope for healing the world over. Physical healing. Spiritual healing. Emotional healing.
Bishop Micas continued, “The real first illness is what we need to be healed. That real illness can lead to death, and it's not the physical, visible ones, but the illness of the heart. Of the soul. And people come here in order to ask, to pray for the cure of this mortal illness. And the other illness, if it comes, it’s just a gift, just a free gift from God.”
This year, on the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Holy Father reminds us that we are first to heal the sick by healing our relationships. Pope Francis urges embracing love and connection, emphasizing their vital role in personal well-being in times of vulnerability and addressing societal issues.
Adapted by Jacob Stein