26 June 1988

To the elderly, sick and disabled in Salzburg Cathedral

On the morning of Sunday, 26 June, the Holy Father went to the Cathedral of Salzburg where he led the morning prayer.  Participating in that liturgy were many of the elderly, infirm and disabled, to whom the Pope  gave the following address:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. It is a great joy for me to begin this Sunday in Salzburg with morning prayer in your midst. The meeting with the elderly, infirm and disabled people has a special place in my pastoral visits.  You are not God’s abandoned children.  Quite the opposite!  If a father or mother can develop a special affection for a sick child, how much more so will God find joy in your faith and courage.  Jesus Christ assures us that we meet him in you in a special way.

It is unfortunately not self-understood that someone who suffers under the burdens of age, illness or disability will be recognized in our society as a person of equal human dignity.  However, God does not ask about your ability to contribute to production, nor  about your bank account.  The Lord does not look at what “meets the eye”, but at the heart.

God’s loving glance, which calls to every person, gives one the certainty that, whether he is young or old, sick or healthy, he is without exception wanted and willed; in this we discover that we are sons and daughters of the same heavenly Father.  God’s love for us is always the first and most basic.  It is a great thing to discover and know about this; it is a great thing to share this discovery with others and live it together with them.

2. Your problems and difficulties certainly often lie heavily upon your shoulders.  Which of you has not already been tempted to ask if your troubles and pains, the weariness which overcomes you, have reward and a meaning?  In your suffering you discover concretely the weakness and limitation of creation.  Precisely in that, however, suffering can also become for you a special place of opening up to your fellow men and women and to God.  A life that passes too smoothly and raises no questions leads us all too easily to superficiality, allows us to become smug and self-satisfied.  Whenever suffering disturbs us with questions which are not easily answered, yearning awakens in us.  We begin again to stand with others, and, in our deepest core, to look towards God.

In order to be able to find help and salvation in suffering, we need community with others and with God.  In happiness and suffering alike we should not withdraw, because the community is the place where we can share life.  One of the Church’s most beautiful missions is to enable a person to experience fraternal sharing as salvific.  In it the Church truly experiences herself as the community of God’s children and as God’s dwelling, for “where charity and love are, there is God”.

3. The man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the Gospel, lived totally unobserved on the margin of society.  Jesus looks at him, as the others look at him, but Jesus alone does not overlook him.  In the synagogue he calls him from the margin into the centre, in order to make everyone really see him. “Stand up”, he says to him, “and come to the centre”, and “the man stood up and came forward” (Lk 6:8).  Unless the man had trusted Jesus, it would have been impossible for him to expose his suffering publicly.  He relies on Jesus, as Peter who trusted in the Lord’s word and walked on the water.  “He stood up”:  in this short phrase the Evangelist tells us that the disabled man is not simply an object of the Lord’s power to heal, but that the cure takes place in the personal encounter and with the cooperation of the sick man.  Jesus encounters the sick person as a worthy fellow man in need of help, and in Jesus the sick one meets the promised Messiah, the Son of God incarnate;  he experiences healing from his believing “yes” to Christ.

At those special places of grace, at those places of prayer and pilgrimage such as Lourdes and Fatima, or wherever people allow themselves to be touched by God’s love, we see how therapeutic personal encounter with God can be.  Every year numerous people return from there with great gifts for their daily life.  The miracle that takes place there is a miracle of encounter and faith.  In faithful turning to God in Christ through Mary, mankind’s tormenting questions about the “why” of suffering are stilled.  They appear in a new light, that suffering receives a deeper meaning from God.  God himself has given the answer to the difficult questions about suffering in  that he became a person, one of us.  God’s answer is Jesus Christ.

4. In his name, the name of Christ whom we also call our “Savior”, I come to you “Heiand” (the German word for “saviour”) speaks to us about a mission – to “heal”.  Jesus Christ preached the Kingdom of God not only in words, but also in his deeds.  This Kingdom was already initiated by him and his work, especially in that he healed people at their roots – in body and soul.  Many of the people who crowded about Jesus were sick;  many of them were also deeply afflicted by guilt.  Jesus forgave them their sins and often made them “whole” through physical healing.  The deaf people whom he cured were not only unable to hear the voices of the world, but they could not hear God’s Word.  The mute were not merely unable speak to people; neither could they praise God from the bottom of their hearts.  The lame were not only unable to go about, but neither could they approach God.  Jesus not only brought them physical healing, but also salvation, peace with God, peace with self, and peace with others.

Indeed Jesus Christ did not  physically heal everyone he met.  However, he himself ultimately suffered for all of them – without exception – to the full.  His way became the way to Golgotha.  He suffered the frightful death on the Cross which gathered together and redeemed the suffering and guilt of every single person and of the whole of humanity.

5. Since that time the image of the crucified Lord is in a special way before the eyes of the Christian who has a great suffering, a great burden, to bear.  The divine “Man of Sorrows” also walks by your side, dear brothers and sisters.  This Christ, marked by suffering and the cross, also stands for us before the throne of God as the Risen One with the transfigured wounds.  Suffering and death were not the end for Christ, and neither are they the end for the person who believes in Christ.  Suffering and death bear within themselves the promise of definitive resurrection and eternal happiness.

Christian faith and Christian hope see beyond death.  They do not, however, simply pass over the present life.  In  a person who is given to believe in the Lord grow the powers to accept and bear one’s own suffering and burden.  He also receives the strength to carry the suffering and the load of his fellow men and women, and to help them overcome it.  “Bear one another’s burden”, the Apostle Paul says, “thus you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).  For that very reason the Church must show that she is the place where the elderly, ill and disabled people feel secure, understood, and supported because her centre is Christ, the “Man of Sorrows” and the Lord who rose transfigured by suffering and death.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, there are certainly people who pass you by carelessly and indifferently.  They give you the feeling that you are superfluous, that you are not needed. Be convinced of one thing:  We need you! The whole of society needs you.  For your contemporaries you are an unsettling inquiry into the deeper values of human life, an appeal to their humanitarianism, a test of their readiness to love.  For young people especially you are a challenge to develop what is best in them:  solidarity and readiness to help those who especially rely on them.  Wherever this humanitarianism withers away, society grows cold.  It is very encouraging that so many young people today are completely committed to the elderly, ill and disabled people!

Every person is the image of God

From your midst I cry out to everyone in your society:  there can be no classification of human life as valuable or worthless.  Several decades ago this categorization brought about the most horrible atrocities.  Every human life – born or unborn, fully developed or handicapped in its development – every human life is created by God with a dignity which no one may take away.  Every person is the image of God.

7. In closing I would like to tell you also just how much the Church needs you.  In you we see Christ, who continues to live in our midst as the one who bears the sign of his cross and suffering.  When you accept the suffering which has inevitably been laid upon you, your prayer and sacrifice have an unheard-of power before God.  Do not give up praying.  Pray and sacrifice for the Church, for the salvation of people, and pray also for my apostolic ministry.

Together with you I finally thank all those people who share your difficult and happy times, who by their nearness bridge the abysses of sadness and desolation.  They are the ones who can give you courage to face life in the trials of old age, sickness or disability, and awaken hope in you, so that it will ever again be possible for you to enjoy anew the miracle of personal encounters and the miracle of faith.

May Mary, Help of Christians, accompany you with her motherly protection.  May the triune God bless you and all those who help you with his peace, and always fill you with the deepest spiritual joy.  Amen.

John Paul II