By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY -- Praying for a loved one's health and healing, tenderly caring for them and asking very human questions about why people suffer are experiences Christians, Muslims and Jews all share, Pope Francis said.
In his message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated Feb. 11, the pope expressed his hope that the day of prayer -- and the entire Year of Mercy -- would promote an encounter of people of different religions and lead to greater understanding among them.
"Every hospital and nursing home can be a visible sign and setting in which to promote the culture of encounter and peace, where the experience of illness and suffering, along with professional and fraternal assistance, helps to overcome every limitation and division," the pope wrote in his message, which the Vatican released Jan. 28.
The main Catholic celebration of the World Day of the Sick 2016 was scheduled for Nazareth, a city in Israel with a large Muslim and Christian population.
With the Holy Land hosting the celebration, Pope Francis chose the Gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana as the biblical inspiration for his message, which looked at Mary's concern for the wedding guests, the servants' willingness to fill jars of water and Jesus' turning the water into wine.
"How much hope there is in that event for all of us," the pope wrote. "In Mary's concern, we see reflected the tenderness of God. This same tenderness is present in the lives of all those persons who attend the sick and understand their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look upon them with eyes full of love.
"How many times has a mother at the bedside of her sick child, or a child caring for an elderly parent, or a grandchild concerned for a grandparent, placed his or her prayer in the hands of Our Lady," the pope wrote.
The miracle of changing water into wine is the work of Jesus, he said. But "he wants to employ human assistance in performing this miracle. He could have made the wine appear directly in the jars. But he wants to rely upon human cooperation, and so he asks the servants to fill them with water. How wonderful and pleasing to God it is to be servants of others!"
When one is sick, especially when one is seriously ill, he said, it naturally provokes a sense of crisis and gives rise to "questions that dig deep," the pope wrote. "Our first response may at times be one of rebellion: Why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning."
But even when one's faith in God is tested, he said, faith gives people the strength to trust in God's mercy and "to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the cross."
Pope Francis prayed that God would grant Catholics the same readiness to serve those in need that Mary showed at the wedding in Cana, especially when those in need are sick.
"At times this service can be tiring and burdensome," the pope said, "yet we are certain that the Lord will surely turn our human efforts into something divine. We too can be hands, arms and hearts which help God to perform his miracles, so often hidden."
The text of the pope's message in English is posted at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/sick/documents/papa-francesco_20150915_giornata-malato.html
The text in Spanish can be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/sick/documents/papa-francesco_20150915_giornata-malato.html