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Pastoral letter: World Day of the Sick 2021

You have but one teacher and you are all brothers” (Mt 23: 8).
A trust-based relationship to guide care for the sick.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Every year on the Saturday following the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, we used to gather at our Marian Shrine at Tsheseng to pray for the sick and for the care-givers. A number of sick people would be anointed with the Sacrament of the Sick. This year that would have been on the 13th of February. Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has made this impossible. But this does not mean that we forget about our sick people and the ones who care for them. No! More than ever we should pray for them, especially in these trying times of corona, seeking the intercession of Mary to put an end to the spread of this silent killer.

Pope Francis, as every year, has a special message for us. For the theme of the day he took a gospel passage in which Jesus criticizes the hypocrisy of those who fail to practice what they preach (cf. Mt 23: 1-12). We cannot remain indifferent towards so many people who are sick and suffering from the effects of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and towards the care-givers – healthcare personnel, volunteers, support staff, priests, men and women religious – who are ov er-burdened by the great influx of corona-infected patients. Nice words will not do. Jesus himself, as the Good Samaritan, shows us the example: he asks us to stop and listen, to establish a direct and personal relationship with others, to feel empathy and compassion, and to let their suffering, outcry, frustration and at times despair become our own as we seek to serve them (Lk 10: 30-37). The coronavirus has made us aware how vulnerable we are; even the most advanced techniques were not able to stop the virus. It made us aware how much we need each other to prevent further spread. It also makes feel all the more clearly that we are creatures dependent on God. Every day we get statistics of those infected and of those who succumbed under the virus. But behind those numbers there are human faces. The current pandemic has shown clearly inequalities in our healthcare systems and exposed inefficiencies in the care of the sick (not just in Africa but even in Western European and American countries). Investing resources in the care and assistance of the sick must be a priority linked to the fundamental principle that health is a primary common good. Yet the pandemic has also highlighted the dedication and generosity of healthcare personnel, volunteers, support staff, priests, men and women religious, all of whom have helped, treated, comforted and served so many of the sick and their families with professionalism, self-giving, responsibility and love of neighbor. It is not just the issue of giving out some medicine but of closeness that provides support and consolation to the sick in their suffering.

How do we in Bethlehem diocese envisage to celebrate this World Day of the Sick and Care-givers? Some Priests, Seminarians and members of the Shrine committee together with the Bishop, in the name of the whole diocese, could gather at the Marian Shrine on Saturday the 13th of February, praying the rosary and celebrating Mass seeking the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Bethlehem. Even if we cannot gather in large numbers in prayer at the Marian Shrine we can still pray even at home. Depending on the development of the pandemic and lockdown level we could gather in our parishes and local communities on Sunday 14th of February and celebrate Mass or have a Sunday service in the absence of a Priest with this intention using the Sunday readings of the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (year B) which surprisingly link up very well with the theme of the World Day of the Sick. In the week following this Sunday Priests could administer the Sacrament of the Sick at the homes of the sick people. In case the lockdown does not allow to gather in churches other means could be used to life-stream Mass or encourage families to gather at home to pray before the statue of Mary and share on the Sunday readings. These are just a few suggestions.

Let us entrust the sick, the healthcare workers and all those who generously assist our suffering brothers and sisters to Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Infirm. May she sustain our faith and hope, and help us to care for one another with fraternal love.

+Jan De Groef

Bishop of Bethlehem diocese

Posted in Bishop's Corner.

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