In 1992, Pope John Paul II instituted World Day of the Sick, a day dedicated to "prayer and sharing, of offering one's suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ”.
It was significant that only a year earlier, the Pope had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
It was also significant he had written widely on the topic of suffering.
In his February 1984 Apostolic letter Salvifici doloris ("redemptive suffering"), he wrote about suffering in general in the light of the cross and how it could be redemptive. It was written following his own meditative recovery from the assassination attempt against him in 1981.
The letter was released on February 11, the day which would become the World Day of the Sick eight years later.
The Pope chose this day because it was the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, when the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage for many people seeking healing at the Marian Sanctuary there through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Since its inception, the day has become very powerful in the life of the Church.
In 2005, the faithful gathered in Rome on World Day of the Sick to pray for an ailing Pope John Paul II, who had only been released from hospital a day earlier, suffering from breathing problems. He would pass away just a few weeks later.
In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation as Pope on World Day of the Sick, citing his declining health as the reason for his decision to retire.
While the World Day of the Sick is not a liturgical celebration, it’s an encouragement to the faithful to pray for those who are suffering, and, in the words of St John Paul II, “see in [a] sick brother or sister the face of Christ.”
In particular too, it’s a day to remember the great work of our chaplains, doctors and nurses, who journey with the sick every day, providing treatment and comfort to people during some of their darkest moments.