In addition to praying, what we can do to ease the burdens of those who suffer most in our society
On May 13, 1992, then-Pope John Paul II established February 11 as the World Day of the Sick, an annual occasion for prayer and reflection and for promoting the assistance and care that is needed – worldwide – for all those who do not enjoy good and complete health.
Every year since then, the Pope has enlivened this Day with a Message in which he encourages us to live life adopting a compassionate and merciful gaze and attitude – like Jesus himself – towards our brothers and sisters who suffer from some kind of illness, towards “all of you, brothers in trial, who are visited by suffering under a thousand forms, who search in vain for the why of human suffering and who ask anxiously when and whence will come relief.” (Closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council – To the Poor, the Sick and the Suffering – 8 December 1965).
Health is a condition for personal, family, and social life. Without health, there is no full life, there is no “abundant life” (Jn 101:10). When we lack health, we are put in a situation of need, fragility, and vulnerability.
So important is health for the human being, that – theologically speaking – God’s salvation for man is synonymous with health. For this reason, the messianic times of the coming of the salvation that God offers us in his Son Jesus Christ are announced, both in the Old Testament, as times of salvation in which “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:4-6).
While health care and the preferential attention that the sick must have in every society are important, the institutions and people who dedicate themselves to health care through the exercise of the medical profession are equally important.
I am the CEO of SOMOS Community Care, a network that coordinates more than 2,500 family physicians to provide primary care services to New York City’s most disadvantaged. In this medical organization, we work toward a humanistic vision and mission that views health care from a comprehensive, preventive perspective. We are aware of the importance of personal and collective health care, and we make our best efforts to ensure that our medical, human, and material resources reach those who need them most.
For this reason, among other expanded social welfare projects, the SOMOS Community Care Medical Organization and the Doctor Ramon Tallaj Foundation have implemented a scholarship system for students with academic excellence who, without this support, would not be able to achieve their academic goals of completing their studies in medical and paramedical programs.
For this 32nd World Day of the Sick, on February 11, 2024, Pope Francis’ Message is inspired by the biblical quote, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18). Because, says the Pope, “Our lives … are meant to attain fulfillment through a network of relationships, friendships, and love, both given and received. We were created to be together, not alone. Precisely because this project of communion is so deeply rooted in the human heart, we see the experience of abandonment and solitude as something frightening, painful, and even inhuman. This is even more the case at times of vulnerability, uncertainty, and insecurity, caused often by the onset of a serious illness.” For this reason, the Pope summons us all to solidarity, to a closeness with compassion and tenderness.
A society that abandons and forgets those who suffer is also a sick society, in need of health and salvation. “This grim reality is mainly a consequence of the culture of individualism that exalts productivity at all costs, cultivates the myth of efficiency, and proves indifferent, even callous, when individuals no longer have the strength needed to keep pace. It then becomes a throwaway culture in which “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor or disabled…” (Fratelli Tutti, 18).
Thus, we are all called to live in the commandment of love, love that simultaneously heals the sick, a love that heals and saves those of us who forget our brothers and sisters in need and those who care for and soothe – from the field of medicine – those who suffer in hospitals.
Let us ask ourselves, in addition to praying, what we can do to ease the burdens of those who suffer most in our society, how we can make the loneliness of the sick and elderly more bearable, how we can lessen the pain of so many brothers and sisters who suffer and in so many ways, because “it is not good for human beings to be alone.”
Mario J. Paredes is CEO of SOMOS Community Care, a social care network of over 2,500 independent providers responsible for reaching and delivering care to over 1 million Medicaid lives across New York City