Mental Illness: 'A Real and Authentic Social Health Care Emergency'
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The World Day of the Sick will be held on Feb. 11, 2006, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes.
Last year this Day was held in the Marian sanctuary of Mvolyé in Yaoundé, and on that occasion the faithful and their pastors, in the name of the whole of the continent of Africa, reaffirmed their pastoral commitment to the sick. The next World Day of the Sick will be in Adelaide, in Australia, and the events will culminate in the celebration of the Eucharist in the cathedral dedicated to St. Francesco Saverio, the untiring missionary of the populations of the East.
On that occasion, the Church intends to bow with special solicitude to the suffering, calling the attention of public opinion to the problems connected with mental disturbance, which by now afflicts one-fifth of mankind and constitutes a real and authentic social health care emergency.
Remembering the attention that my venerated predecessor Pope John Paul II gave to this annual event, I, too, dear brothers and sisters, would like to make myself spiritually present at the World Day of the Sick, so as to pause to reflect, in harmony with those taking part, on the situation of the mentally ill in the world and to call for the commitment of the Church communities to bear witness to the tender mercy of God towards them.
In many countries, legislation in this field does not yet exist and in other countries a precise policy on mental health is absent. It should also be observed that the prolongation of armed conflicts in various areas of the world, the succession of terrible natural catastrophes, and the spread of terrorism, in addition to causing a shocking number of deaths, have also created mental traumas in not a few survivors, whose recovery at times is difficult.
And in countries with high economic development, the experts recognize that at the origin of new forms of mental disturbance we may also find the negative impact of the crisis of moral values. This increases the sense of loneliness, undermining and even breaking down traditional forms of social cohesion, beginning with the institution of the family, and marginalizing the sick, and especially the mentally ill, who are often seen as a burden for their families and the community.
I would like here to thank those who work in various ways and at various levels to ensure that the spirit of solidarity does not decline and that people persevere in looking after these brothers and sisters of ours, basing themselves on human and Gospel-based ideals and principles. I thus encourage the efforts of those who work to ensure that all mentally ill people are given access to necessary forms of care and treatment. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world the services for these sick people are lacking, insufficient or in a state of decay.
The social context does not always accept the mentally ill, with their limitations, and for this reason, as well, difficulties are encountered in securing the human and financial resources that are needed. One perceives the need to integrate in a better way the tandem appropriate therapy and a new sensitivity towards disturbance so as to enable workers in this sector, in a more effective way, to help these sick people and their families, who on their own would not be able to take care of their relatives in difficulty in an adequate way. The next World Day of the Sick is a suitable occasion to express solidarity to families who have mentally sick people dependent upon them.
I would here like to address myself to you, dear brothers and sisters burdened by illness, so as to invite you to offer your condition of suffering, together with Christ, to the Father, certain that every ordeal received with resignation is meritorious and draws the benevolence of God upon the whole of mankind. I express my appreciation to those who help and care for you in residential centers, day hospitals and wards providing diagnosis and treatment, and I exhort them to strive to ensure that medical, social and pastoral assistance for those in need which respects the dignity specific to every human being is never absent.
The Church, in particular through the work of chaplains, will not fail to offer you her own help, being well aware that she is called to express the love and care of Christ for those who suffer and for those who look after them. I commend pastoral workers and voluntary associations and organizations to support -- in practical forms and through practical initiatives -- those families who have mentally ill people dependent upon them, in relation to whom I hope that the culture of welcoming and sharing will grow and spread, as a result, also, of suitable laws and health-care programs that envisage sufficient resources for their practical application. The training and updating of the personnel who work in such a very delicate sector of society is as urgent as ever before.
Every Christian, according to his specific task and specific responsibility, is called to make his contribution so that the dignity of these brothers and sisters of ours is recognized, respected and promoted. "Duc in altum!" This invitation of Christ to Peter and the Apostles I address to the Church communities spread throughout the world and in a special way to those who are at the service of the sick, so that, with the help of "Mary Salus Infirmorum," they may bear witness to the goodness and the paternal solicitude of God. May the Holy Virgin comfort those who are afflicted by illness and support those who, like the Good Samaritan, soothe their corporeal and spiritual wounds!
I assure each one of you that you will be remembered in my prayers, and I willingly impart my Blessing on you all.
From the Vatican, Dec. 8, 2005
[Translation issued by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers]
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