On Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Church observes the World Day of the Sick. This day was established 30 years ago by St. John Paul II to give more attention to the needs of those who are ill and their caregivers. Pope Francis’ theme this year — “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) — highlights the importance of mercy in this ministry of presence and compassion, one that is especially needed as we continue to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
The model for this outreach is Jesus himself, who encountered and cured people suffering from a variety of diseases. He wants others to show this same care and concern for the ill and vulnerable, telling his disciples “whatever you did for one of these least … of mine, you did for me.”
In his message, Pope Francis offers special thanks to health care workers who continue to face numerous challenges because of the pandemic. Such service, he writes, “carried out with love and competence, transcends the bounds of your profession and becomes a mission. Your hands, which touch the suffering flesh of Christ, can be a sign of the merciful hands of the Father. Be mindful of the great dignity of your profession, as well as the responsibility that it entails.”
But when cures aren’t possible, being present to those who are ill — with a listening ear and compassionate heart — can provide a different kind of healing. This ministry is the responsibility of every follower of Christ:
“I would like to remind everyone that closeness to the sick and their pastoral care is not only the task of certain specifically designated ministers; visiting the sick is an invitation that Christ addresses to all his disciples,” the pope writes. “How many sick and elderly people are living at home and waiting for a visit! The ministry of consolation is a task for every baptized person, mindful of the word of Jesus: ‘I was sick and you visited me’ (Matthew 25:36).”
The World Day of the Sick is an invitation to minister to the ill and homebound, perhaps by participating in already-established parish ministries or reaching out in other ways to those in need in our communities. Making personal visits when it’s safe to do so, writing cards, making calls — all of these are acts of mercy that bring the healing presence of Christ to those very much in need of it.
Please remember to pray for health care workers and all caregivers. They are witnesses of mercy and compassion that we should all strive to emulate.
February is also Catholic Press Month, an annual observance that celebrates the important role of Catholic publications to inform, educate and evangelize the people of God. Each year on Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists, the pope releases a message for World Communications Day. The theme of this year’s message is “Listen!”
“The pandemic has affected and wounded everyone, and everyone needs to be heard and comforted,” the Vatican said when it announced this year’s theme. “Listening is also fundamental for good information. The search for truth begins with listening. And so does witnessing through the means of social communication. Every dialogue, every relationship begins with listening. For this reason, in order to grow, even professionally, as communicators, we need to relearn to listen a lot.”
This type of attentive listening is especially needed now as our diocese joins others around the world in the local synod process to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church, including our diocese, at this time in history. Listening also has been an essential part of the mission of our diocesan publication over the last eight decades — a time in which we have experienced many changes in the Church and the way news and information is created and delivered.
In the diocese’s communications office, we best serve the people of the diocese — parishioners, parish staff and volunteers, pastors and our bishop — when we listen closely to their needs and use all the resources available to deliver accurate information, spread the Good News, facilitate true dialogue and foster a sense of community among Catholics. Today, these resources include The Central Minnesota Catholic monthly magazine, weekly e-newsletter, social media, From the Heart blog and our Minnesota Catholic Podcasts channel. We also publish stories in Spanish to reach the growing number of Latino members of our diocese.
During this Catholic Press Month, please pray for our communications ministry and our staff as we strive each and every day to serve the Church’s evangelizing mission.
Joe Towalski is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic and director of communications for the Diocese of St. Cloud.
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