Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Healing the sick, healing relationships

January 18, 2024

In 1992, Pope John Paul II called for a day of prayer for the sick, which began the practice of an annual World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11, the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes. This was very personal for the saintly pope, as a year earlier he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, from which he suffered until his death in 2005.

Since John Paul II called for a day of prayer for the sick, he and his successors have issued an annual message to shine light on the admirable work done by those who serve in Catholic health ministry and to draw attention to the importance of caring for the sick as central to the ministry Jesus entrusted to the church.

Pope Francis recently issued his annual message, in which he urges us to stand in solidarity with the sick, so that their suffering is not compounded by a feeling of isolation. He begins by reminding us that from the beginning of creation God always intended that humanity should live in communion and in relationships with each other. We read in Genesis: “It is not good that man should be alone.” It is not good because it is at odds with our nature of being created in the image of God, who is a Trinity of persons, a communion of love given and received.

That core tenet of our faith, the Holy Father tells us, should guide us as we care for those who suffer illnesses. Care of the sick surely means providing them with the best medical attention possible. In fact, as the pope argues, everyone has a right to health care and it should never be considered a commodity for only those who can afford it. Health care is central to human flourishing, and political decisions about health care must focus on the dignity of the human person and his or her needs.

But health care also should aim at caring for relationships, to offer those struggling with illness our love and compassion, so that they do not feel alone. Our local church here in Chicago was guided by this Gospel value during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as I recall the dozens of priests who volunteered to visit patients in the hospital, anointing them and making sure that they did not face the hour of death alone. They did so at great risk to themselves. They were untiring in making multiple visits to hospitals, even as the high volume of requests increased.

Similarly, I stand in admiration of the many nurses and hospital staff who worked tirelessly to care for those infected with the lethal virus. Many times they volunteered to record the visits of the priests on their phones to share with the patients’ families and friends. This was a great consolation to those who felt helpless in not being able to be present with their loved ones at the hour of death.

As we again prepare to celebrate the World Day of the Sick, we are treated to texts from the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus reveals that he was sent into the world heal us — from sin, from illness, from division and isolation. His example of healing should continue to guide the church’s outreach to those who suffer illness, as Pope Francis observes: “The sick, the vulnerable, and the poor are at the heart of the Church. … They must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention.”

 The Holy Father concludes his message by speaking directly to the sick and offering these encouraging words: “To those of you who experience illness, whether temporary or chronic, I would say this: Do not be ashamed of your longing for closeness and tenderness! Do not conceal it, and never think that you are a burden on others.”

The celebration of the World Day of the Sick provides the opportunity to thank all those who daily care for the sick and the vulnerable in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice services, as well as those who offer pastoral care through chaplaincy services. They need care too. It also should inspire us to continue the mission of Jesus by doing all we can to stay close to those who suffer illness, but also to heal those relationships in our lives which can leave us and others isolated from one another, and cause so much unneeded suffering in our world.

The full text of the pope’s message can be found at



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