‘I Was Sick and You Visited Me’

World Day of The Sick Is A Poignant Call to Faith in The Time of A Health Crisis

Last year, Father Duy Le had a chance to make his first trip to Lourdes. As the pastor of the San Francisco Solano Catholic Church in Rancho Santa Margarita reflected on the 30th World Day of the Sick, he said he did so with new appreciation in the wake of his trip to the famed place of healing.

“Seeing their faces,” he said of the reactions of the sick upon being touched by sacred waters, “seeing the joy and faith and trust, that healed me.”

In September, Fr. Duy journeyed to the famed grotto as part of a local delegation from the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta on its pilgrimage to the site.

Fr. Duy says he went not as a chaplain but simply to serve.

“We brought 30 to 40 malades,” he said using the French word for sick that refers to those who go to France for healing.

“I helped with whatever they needed. I pushed them up hills and pulled them down hills,” he said with a chuckle. “What an intimate experience to see people on their journey of healing and faith.”

Although Fr. Duy did not witness any physical healing on the spot, he saw equally inspiring looks in the eyes of the ailing.

After hearing several of the countless physician-verified miracles of healing, Fr. Duy said he came to a realization, made particularly profound in this time of pandemic.

The pastor said he was led to wonder, “why don’t I trust in more than spiritual healing? We forget that God healed so many. We’ve stopped believing that God can heal physically. Jesus is a great physician and can unite us. The biggest thing we can do is rely on him.”

To Fr. Duy, that revelation at the grotto in Southern France makes the World Day of the Sick all the more compelling.

Saint John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick in 1993 to draw attention to the sick and to those who care for them.

It is timed annually to line up with the first appearance by Mary in 1858 at Massabiele near Lourdes before St. Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old girl from the area. Between February and July, the apparition appeared in white robes. In March, the lady revealed herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary and asked that a parish be built at the grotto. After Soubirous dug in the earth, a puddle of water appeared, growing into a pool and eventually the famed spring.

Today, Lourdes is the most visited pilgrimage site in Christianity, with 4 million to 6 million annually. The main pilgrimage season runs from April through October, highlighted by the Marian Feast of Assumption in August.

A Historic Photochrom Image of The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Taken Circa 1890s. Photo: Shutterstock

The 30th World Day of the Sick, which fell on February 11, 2022, was celebrated on Saturday Feb. 12 at Christ Cathedral. The Diocese of Orange began celebrating the day 15 years ago.

The Mass was celebrated for hundreds of ailing parishioners, as well as their families, caretakers and friends. The service included sprinkling of holy water from Lourdes, anointings and special blessings for the hands of caregivers.

After the service, small bottles of Lourdes holy water were available to parishioners.

According to Deacon Modesto Cordero, Director of Worship for the Diocese, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, there was added emphasis on caregivers, physicians and nurses.

Pope Francis, in his message for the Day of the Sick, reinforced the message of the importance of those who provide care.

“Dear healthcare workers, your service alongside the sick, carried out with love and competence, transcends the bounds of your profession and becomes a mission,” the Pontiff said.

This year, due to the pandemic, the pope’s celebration slated for Arequipa, Peru, was canceled and moved to Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

“It’s important to recognize and celebrate among those in need of special anointing, and reflect on Jesus curing the sick,” Deacon Modesto said.

The Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta, which has about 13,500 members worldwide and about 100 in Orange County, are critical to the Mass. The Order, founded in the 11th century, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, provides medical, social and humanitarian care in more than 120 nations.

Each year, the group travels to Lourdes with ailing parishioners to be anointed in the holy waters and ask for Mary’s intercession. It has also begun bringing written petitions
from parishioners who can’t make the trip asking for miracles and blessings.

“It’s not always throwing away crutches,” Sherry Van Meter, of the Orange County Order of Malta, told OC Catholic in 2019. “Sometimes there are miracles of acceptance, of
patience and peace.”

Pope Francis summed it up saying “the ministry of consolation is a task for every baptized person, mindful of the word of Jesus: ‘I was sick and you visited me.’”