“Behold, your son… Behold, your mother.
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (Jn 19:26-27)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On 11 February, the Church throughout the world celebrates the World Day of the Sick. This day was instituted by Saint John Paul II in 1992, and first celebrated at Lourdes in southern France, on 11 February 1993. Today the Church in Malawi joins the Church throughout the world in celebrating the World Day of the Sick.

In our celebrations this year, we reflect upon the message of His Holiness Pope Francis. In his message he has reminded us that ‘the Church’s service to the sick and those who care for them must continue with renewed vigour, in fidelity to the Lord’s command (cf. Lk 9:2-6; Mt 10:1-8; Mk 6:7-13) and following the eloquent example of her Founder and Master. The theme for this year’s Day of the Sick is provided by the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross to Mary, his Mother, and to John: “Behold, your son… Behold, your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (Jn 19:26-27).

The Lord’s words brilliantly illuminate the mystery of the Cross, which does not represent a hopeless tragedy, but rather the place where Jesus manifests his glory and shows his love to the end. That love in turn was to become the basis and rule for the Christian community and the life of each disciple. Our Lord’s unspeakable pain of the Cross pierced Mary’s soul (cf. Lk 2:35), but does not paralyze her. Likewise the pain that our brothers and sisters are going through on their hospital beds should shock us, but not paralyze us. Their pain should invoke our love for them by doing something about their situation. That something is up to each one of us. As a Church, however, we have gather together some gifts which we receive from the Lord’s bounty. Our brothers and sisters in hospitals and communities we live in will appreciate these gifts. The Lord himself will bless our efforts.

Let us all remember that the Church’s maternal vocation to the needy and to the sick has found concrete expression throughout the two thousand years of her history in an impressive series of initiatives on behalf of the sick. This history of dedication must not be forgotten. It continues to the present day throughout the world. In countries where adequate public health care systems exist, the work of Catholic religious congregations and dioceses and their hospitals is aimed not only at providing quality medical care, but also at putting the human person at the centre of the healing process, while carrying out scientific research with full respect for life and for Christian moral values. In countries where health care systems are inadequate or non-existent, the Church seeks to do what she can to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease. Everywhere she tries to provide care, even when she is not in a position to offer a cure.

The Church in Malawi provides about 37% percent of health care services through Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM). Most of these health care services are in rural and hard to reach areas. The image of the Church as a “field hospital” that welcomes all those wounded by life is a very concrete reality, for in some parts, missionary and diocesan hospitals are the only institutions providing necessary care to the population.

Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power: “These signs will accompany those who believe… they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mk 16:17-18). In the Acts of the Apostles, we read accounts of the healings worked by Peter (cf. Acts 3:4-8) and Paul (cf. Acts 14:8-11). 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. Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from Small Christian Communities, Parishes to the largest healthcare institutions. We cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives. The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies. Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission. It is a shared responsibility that enriches the value of the daily service given by each.

As a Church, we are called upon to place those who are ill, both in body and soul, in the healing hands of Jesus Christ. We do this through the Mother of all care, Mary Mother of Jesus. She sustained the life of Jesus Christ to the very end, she, surely, will sustain the sick in hope, faith and love. We ask her also to help us to be welcoming to our sick brothers and sisters. The Church knows that she requires a special grace to live up to her evangelical task of serving the sick. May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the Church may live with love and the vocation to serve life and health. May the Virgin Mary intercede for this Twenty-sixth World Day of the Sick; may she help the sick to experience their suffering in communion with the Lord Jesus; and may she support all those who care for them. To all, the sick, to healthcare workers and to volunteers, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Signed by:

Right Reverend John Alphonsus Ryan,
Bishop of Mzuzu