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Pastoral Visit of the Holy Father to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo (17 March 2018)


17 MARCH 2018


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Saturday, 17 March 2018

7.00 Departure from Vatican heliport
8.00 Landing at the square adjacent to the liturgical hall of Piana Romana in Pietrelcina

The Holy Father is received by: 
- H.E. Msgr. Felice Accrocca, archbishop of Benevento 
- Mr. Domenico Masone, mayor of Pietrelcina

Brief pause for prayer in the Saint Francis Chapel in front of the elm of the stigmata

8.15 - On the Square in front of the liturgical hall: Meeting with the faithful

Greeting from the archbishop of Benevento
- The Holy Father greets the Community of Capucins and a representation of faithful
9.00 Departure from Piana Romana, for San Giovanni Rotondo
9.30 Landing in the “Antonio Massa” sports field of San Giovanni Rotondo

The Holy Father is received by:
- H.E. Msgr. Michele Castoro, archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo 
- Dr. Costanzo Cascavilla, mayor of San Giovanni Rotondo

Transfer by car to “Casa sollievo della Sofferenza” Hospital. From the square in front, the Holy Father greets and blesses the sick, without leaving the car

10.00 Visit to the Paediatric Oncology Ward

The Holy Father is received by:
-   Dr. Domenico Crupi, director general of the “Casa sollievo della Sofferenza” Hospital

The Holy Father meets children, inpatients on the third floor of the ward.

10.45 At the end of the visit, the Pope arrives at the Shrine of Saint Mary of the Graces, where he is received by:

-          Fr. Maurizio Placentino, provincial minister of the Capuchins
-          Fr. Carlo Laborde, guardian
-          Fr. Francesco Dileo, rector

In the Shrine, the Holy Father greets the religious Community of the Capuchins, and venerates the body of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and the crucifix of the stigmata.

11.15 Parvis of the Church of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina:  Eucharistic Concelebration

At the end of the Holy Mass: greeting of H.E. Msgr. Michele Castoro, archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo

The Holy Father greets some of the Authorities and a representation of faithful

13.00 Departure from the sports field of San Giovanni Rotondo
14.00 Arrival in the Vatican heliport

Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office, 8 March 2018

Call to Prayer: March 16, 2018

The post Call to Prayer: March 16, 2018 appeared first on Marriage Unique for a Reason.

General Audience of 14 March 2018



St Peter`s Square
Wednesday, 14 March 2018




Dear brothers and sisters: In our catechesis on the Mass, we now turn from the Eucharistic Prayer to the Communion Rites, which begin with our common recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.  The prayer we offer to the Father as his adoptive children in Christ, disposes us to receive the Lord’s body and blood in Holy Communion.  We ask the Father for “our daily bread”, for the forgiveness of our sins and for deliverance from evil.  These petitions are then expanded in the following prayers, which invoke God’s peace and unity upon the Church and our world.  In the exchange of the sign of peace, we demonstrate our commitment to be reconciled with one another, so as to worthily approach the altar to receive the Lord’s gift of himself.  The rite of the breaking of the bread, accompanied by our invocation of Christ as the Lamb of God, acknowledges the saving presence of the risen Lord among us and implores the peace he won for us on the Cross.  May our conscious celebration of these rites help us to experience ever more fully the Eucharist as the sacrament of our communion with God and with all our brothers and sisters.

Holy Father:

Saluto i pellegrini di lingua inglese presenti all’Udienza odierna, specialmente quelli provenienti da Inghilterra, Irlanda, Norvegia, Australia, Cina, Indonesia e Stati Uniti d’America.  Con fervidi auguri che questa Quaresima sia per voi e per le vostre famiglie un tempo di grazia e di rinnovamento spirituale, invoco su voi tutti la gioia e la pace del Signore Gesù.  Dio vi benedica!


I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from England, Ireland, Norway, Australia, China, Indonesia and the United States of America.  With prayerful good wishes that this Lent will be a time of grace and spiritual renewal for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.  God bless you! 



Call to Prayer: March 9, 2018

The post Call to Prayer: March 9, 2018 appeared first on Marriage Unique for a Reason.

Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance (9 March 2018) Penitential Celebration (9 March 2018)



Vatican Basilica
, 9 March 2018




What great joy and consolation are offered us by the words of Saint John that we just heard: God so loves us that that he has made us his children, and, when we see him face-to-face, we shall discover all the more the greatness of his love (cf. 1 Jn 3:1-10.19-22).  Not only that.  The love of God is always greater than anything we can imagine; it even reaches beyond any sin with which our conscience may charge us.  His is an infinite love, one that knows no bounds.  It is free of all those obstacles that we, for our part, tend to set in front of others, out of fear that they may strip us of our freedom.

We know that the state of sin distances us from God.  But in fact, sin is the way that we distance ourselves from him.  Yet that does not mean that God distances himself from us.  The state of weakness and confusion that results from sin is one more reason for God to remain close to us.  The certainty of this should accompany us throughout our lives.  The words of the Apostle are a reassuring confirmation that our hearts should trust, always and unhesitatingly, in the Father’s love: “No matter what our hearts may charge us with, God is greater than our hearts” (v. 20).

His grace is constantly at work in us, to strengthen our hope that his love will never be lacking, in spite of any sin we may have committed by rejecting his presence in our lives.

It is this hope that makes us realize at times that our life has lost its direction, as Peter did in the Gospel account that we heard.  “And immediately the cock crowed.  And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times’.  And he went out and wept bitterly” (Mt 26:74-75).  The evangelist is extremely sober.  The crowing of the cock startles a man who is bewildered; he then recalls the words of Jesus, and at last the curtain is lifted.  Peter begins to glimpse through his tears that God is revealed in Christ, who is buffeted and insulted, whom he himself has denied, yet who now goes off to die for him.  Peter, who wanted to die for Jesus, now realizes that he must let Jesus die for him.  Peter wanted to teach the Master; he wanted to go before him.  Instead, it is Jesus who goes off to die for Peter.  Peter had not understood this; he didn’t want to understand it.

Peter is now confronted with the Lord’s charity.  Finally he understands that the Lord loves him and asks him to let himself be loved.  Peter realizes that he had always refused to let himself be loved.  He had always refused to let himself be saved by Jesus alone, and so he did not want Jesus to love him completely.

How truly difficult it is to let ourselves be loved!  We would always like a part of us to be freed of the debt of gratitude, while in reality we are completely indebted, because God loved us first and, with love, he saves us completely.

Let us now ask the Lord for the grace to know the greatness of his love, which wipes away our every sin.

Let us allow ourselves to be purified by love, in order to recognize true love!


To the Members of the Plenary Council of the International Catholic Migration Commission (8 March 2018)


Clementine Hall
Thursday, 8 March 2018



Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer you a warm welcome you on the occasion of this Plenary Council of the International Catholic Migration Commission. I thank your President, Cardinal Njue, who has a good sense of humour, for his greeting and his brief overview of your work.

Following Saint John Paul II, who himself echoed the words of Blessed Paul VI, I would like to reaffirm that the cause of this organization of which you are part is the cause of Christ himself (cf. Address to Members of the ICMC, 12 November 2001: Insegnamenti XXIV, 2 [2001], 712).  This fact has not changed over time; on the contrary, your commitment has deepened in response to the inhumane living conditions experienced by millions of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters in various parts of the world.  Just as he did at the time of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, so too the Lord hears their cry and sees their sufferings (cf. Ex 3:7).  Today as in the past, liberating the poor, the oppressed and the persecuted is an integral part of the mission entrusted by God to the Church.  The work of your Commission represents a tangible expression of this important missionary commitment.  Much has changed since your establishment in 1951.  Needs have grown ever more complex, tools for responding ever more sophisticated, and your service increasingly professional.  Thanks be to God, none of these changes has lessened the Commission’s fidelity to its mission.  Thank you.

The Lord sent Moses into the midst of his oppressed people, to dry their tears and restore their hope (cf. Ex 3:16-17).  In its more than sixty-five years of work, the Commission has distinguished itself in carrying out in the Church’s name a multifaceted work of assistance to migrants and refugees in a variety of situations of great need.  The multiple projects initiated on five continents represent exemplary instances of the four verbs – welcome, defend, promote and integrate – by which I wished to characterize the Church’s pastoral response in the face of migration (cf. Message for the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 15 August 2017).

It is my hope that this work will continue to inspire local Churches to do all they can for persons forced to leave their home countries and who, all too often, become victims of dishonesty, violence and abuse of every sort.  Thanks to the invaluable experience accumulated over many years of work, the Commission is able to offer expert assistance to Bishops’ Conferences and Dioceses that seek to respond more effectively to this epochal challenge.

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10).  With these words, the Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh, to convince him to set his people free.  In order to set free those who today are oppressed, rejected and enslaved, it is essential to promote open and sincere dialogue with government leaders, a dialogue that takes into account people’s actual experiences, sufferings and aspirations, in order to remind everyone once more of his or her responsibilities.  The processes set in motion by the international community for a global agreement on refugees, and another for safe, orderly and regulated migration, represent a privileged forum for implementing such dialogue.  Here too the Commission has been in the forefront, offering a valued and competent contribution to the development of much-needed new ways for the international community to respond with foresight to these phenomena typical our time.

I am pleased that the many Episcopal Conferences represented here are moving in this direction, with a common intent that bears witness before the entire world to the Church’s pastoral concern for our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters. 

The work is not over.  Together we must encourage countries to coordinate more suitable and effective responses to the challenges posed by issues of migration; and we can do this on the basis of the essential principles of the Church’s social teaching.  We must likewise commit ourselves to ensuring that, as a sign of shared global responsibility, concrete engagement follows from the words already codified in the aforementioned two agreements.  Yet the Commission’s commitment goes even further.  I ask the Holy Spirit to continue to enlighten all of you, as you carry out your vital mission of showing forth God’s merciful love to our migrant brothers and sisters.  I assure you of my closeness and my prayers; and I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me.  [Blessing]


Made for Love Ep 8: Love and Mental Illness

Mental Health and the Family Mental illness is a reality for many families. Today, we’re focusing on depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental illnesses, and their effects on family life. This episode features Dr. Aaron Kheriaty (author of The Catholic Guide to Depression), Tommy Tighe (author of The Catholic Hipster Handbook), Sarah […]

The post Made for Love Ep 8: Love and Mental Illness appeared first on Marriage Unique for a Reason.

General Audience of 7 March 2018



Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 7 March 2018



Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

We are continuing the catecheses on the Holy Mass, and with this catechesis we shall focus on the Eucharistic Prayer. The rite of the presentation of the bread and wine having concluded, the Eucharistic Prayer begins, which qualifies the celebration of the Mass and constitutes its central moment, ordered to holy Communion.

It corresponds to what Jesus himself did, at the table with the Apostles at the Last Supper, when “he gave thanks” over the bread and then over the cup of wine (cf. Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:17, 19; 1 Cor 11:24): his thanksgiving lives again each time we celebrate the Eucharist, joining us to his sacrifice of salvation.

And in this solemn Prayer — the Eucharistic Prayer is solemn — the Church expresses what she achieves when she celebrates the Eucharist and the reason why it is celebrated; rather, she makes communion with Christ truly present in the consecrated Bread and Wine. After inviting the people to lift up their hearts to the Lord and to give him thanks, the priest pronounces the Prayer aloud, in the name of all those present, addressing the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. “The meaning of the Prayer is that the entire congregation of the faithful should join with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 78). And in order to join oneself one needs to understand. For this reason, the Church has wished to celebrate Mass in the language that the people understand, so that each one may join him or herself in this praise and in this great prayer with the priest. In truth, “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367).

In the Missal there are different formulations of the Eucharistic Prayer, all constituted of characteristic elements, which I would like to recall now (cf. ogmr, 79; ccc, 1352-1354). They are all very beautiful. First and foremost there is the Preface, which is the act of thanksgiving for the gifts of God, in particular for sending his Son as Saviour. The Preface concludes with the acclamation of the “Holy”, normally sung. It is beautiful to sing the “Holy”: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord”. It is beautiful to sing it. The whole assembly joins its voice to that of the Angels and Saints to praise and glorify God.

There is then the invocation of the Spirit, that by his power he consecrate the bread and wine. We invoke the Spirit, that he come and that Jesus may be in the bread and wine. The action of the Holy Spirit and the efficacy of the very words of Christ uttered by the priest make truly present, under the form of bread and wine, his Body and his Blood, his sacrifice offered on the Cross once and for all (cf. ccc, 1375). Jesus was most clear about this. We have heard how Saint Paul, in the beginning, repeated Jesus’ words: “This is my body; this is my blood”. “This is my blood; this is my body”. It was Jesus himself who said this. We should not have odd thoughts: “But, how come something that...”. It is the Body of Jesus; it ends there! Faith: faith comes to our aid; by an act of faith we believe that it is the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is the “mystery of faith”, as we say after the consecration. The priest says: “Mystery of faith”, and we respond with an acclamation. Commemorating the Lord’s death and Resurrection, in expectation of his glorious return, the Church offers the Father the sacrifice which reconciles heaven and earth: she offers the paschal sacrifice of Christ, offering herself with him and asking, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to become “one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer iii; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48; ogmr, 79f). The Church wishes to be joined to Christ and become one body and one spirit with the Lord. This is the grace and the fruit of sacramental Communion: we are nourished of the Body of Christ to become, we who eat of it, his Body living today in the world.

This is the mystery of communion; the Church is united to Christ’s offering and his intercession, and in this light, “in the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men” (ccc, 1368). The Church which praises, which prays. It is beautiful to think that the Church praises, she prays. There is a passage in the Book of The Acts of the Apostles; when Peter was in prison, it says the Christian community: “prayed earnestly for him”. The Church that prays, the prayerful Church. And when we go to Mass it is to do this: to be a prayerful Church.

The Eucharistic Prayer asks God to welcome all his children in the perfection of love, in union with the Pope and the Bishop, mentioned by name, a sign that we celebrate in communion with the universal Church and with the particular Church. The prayer, like the offering, is presented to God for all the members of the Church, living and departed, in expectation of the blessed hope of sharing the eternal inheritance of heaven, with the Virgin Mary (cf. ccc 1369-1371). No one and nothing is forgotten in the Eucharistic Prayer, but every thing is attributed to God, as is recalled by the doxology which concludes it. No one is forgotten. And if I have someone, relatives, friends, who are in need or have departed from this world to the other, I can name them at that time, interiorly and silently, or write the name so it may be said aloud. “Father, how much do I have to pay to have my name said there?” — “Nothing”. Is this understood? Nothing! One does not pay for Mass. Mass is Christ’s sacrifice, which is freely given. Redemption is freely given. If you want to make an offering, do so, but it is not paid for. It is important to understand this.

This codified formulation of prayer, perhaps we may feel it to be somewhat distant — it is true, it is an ancient formula — but, if we truly understand the significance, then we will certainly participate better. Indeed it expresses all that we fulfil in the Eucharistic celebration; moreover, it teaches us to cultivate three attitudes that should never be lacking in Jesus’ disciples. The three attitudes: first, learn “to give thanks, always and everywhere”, and not only on certain occasions, when all is going well; second, to make of our life a gift of love, freely given; third, to build concrete communion, in the Church and with everyone. Thus, this central Prayer of the Mass teaches us, little by little, to make of our whole life a “Eucharist”, that is, an act of thanksgiving.

Special greetings:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from England, Lithuania, Vietnam and the United States of America. With prayerful good wishes that this Lent will be a time of grace and spiritual renewal for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!

In two days the Winter Paralympic Games will open in the city of PyeongChang, South Korea, which recently hosted the Olympics. These [games] showed how sport can build bridges between countries in conflict and make a valid contribution to the prospects of peace among peoples. The Paralympic Games, even more so, attest that through sport one’s own disabilities can be overcome. The Paralympic athletes are for everyone examples of courage, of perseverance, of tenacity in not letting oneself be defeated by limitations. Sport thus seems to be a great school of inclusion, but also of inspiration for one’s own life and of commitment to transform society.

I extend my greeting to the International Paralympic Committee, to the athletes, to the Authorities and to the Korean people. I assure my prayers that this event may favour days of peace and joy for all.

This Friday, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, we will celebrate the penitential liturgy for the traditional 24 Hours for the Lord.

It is my hope that our churches remain open longer in order to welcome those who wish to prepare themselves for Holy Easter, by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to experience God’s mercy in this way.

I address a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. I am pleased to welcome the teacher priests of “Theology of Mission”, the Little Sisters of Divine Providence, the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Hearts and the group from the Focolare Movement.

I offer a special thought to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds. Dear brothers and sisters, in this penitential time, the Lord reveals the path of hope for you to follow. May the Holy Spirit guide you to achieve a true conversion, so as to rediscover the gift of the Word of God, to be purified of sin and to serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters, according to each one’s abilities and respective roles.


Angelus, 4 March 2018, 3rd Sunday of Lent



Saint Peter's Square
3rd Sunday of Lent, 4 March 2018



Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today’s Gospel presents, in John’s version, the episode in which Jesus drives the merchants out of the Temple of Jerusalem (cf. 2:13-25). He performs this act with the help of a whip of small cords, overturns the tables and says: “you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (v. 16). This decisive action, undertaken in proximity to Passover, makes a great impression on the crowd and sparks the hostility of the religious authorities and of those who feel their economic interests threatened. But how should we interpret it? It certainly was not a violent action, insomuch as it did not provoke the intervention of the defenders of public order: the police. No! But it was interpreted as an action typical of prophets, who often denounced, in the name of God, abuses and excesses. The issue raised was that of authority. In fact the Jews asked Jesus: “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” (v. 18), that is, what authority do you have to do these things? As if to demand that he show he was truly acting in the name of God.

To interpret Jesus’ act of purifying the house of God, his disciples made use of a biblical text taken from Psalm 69[68]: “For zeal for thy house has consumed me” (v. 9); the Psalm says this: “For zeal for thy house has consumed be”. This Psalm is a call for help in a situation of extreme peril due to the hatred of enemies: the situation that Jesus will experience in his Passion.

Zeal for the Father and for his house will lead him all the way to the Cross: his is the zeal of love which leads to self-sacrifice, not that false zeal that presumes to serve God through violence. Indeed the “sign” that Jesus will give as proof of his authority will be precisely his death and Resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). The Evangelist notes: “But he spoke of the temple of his body”. With Jesus’ Paschal Mystery begins the new worship, in the new temple, the worship of love, and the new temple is He himself.

Jesus’ behaviour recounted in today’s Gospel passage exhorts us to live our life not in search of our own advantage and interests, but for the glory of God who is love. We are called to always bear in mind those powerful words of Jesus: “you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (v. 16). It is very harmful when the Church goes astray with this manner of making the house of God a house of trade. These words help us to reject the danger of also making our soul, which is God’s dwelling place, a house of trade, by living in constant search of our personal interests instead of generous and supportive love. This teaching of Jesus is always timely, not only for Church communities, but also for individuals, for civil communities and for society as a whole. Indeed, it is a common temptation to exploit good, sometimes dutiful deeds in order to cultivate private, if not entirely illicit interests. It is a grave danger, especially when one exploits God himself and the worship owed to him, or service to mankind, His image. This is why Jesus used “a harsh approach” that time, in order to shake us from this mortal danger.

May the Virgin Mary support us in the effort to make Lent a good occasion to recognize God as the One Lord of our life, removing all forms of idolatry from our hearts and from our deeds.

After the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters, I greet all of you from Rome, from Italy and from other countries, in particular the pilgrims from the dioceses of Granada, Malaga and Cordoba, Spain.

I greet the numerous parish groups, including the faithful from Spinaceto, Milan and Naples, as well as the youth from Azzano Mella and the confirmands from the Diocese of Vicenza, whom I encourage — I encourage! — to witness to the Gospel with joy, especially among their peers.

And I wish everyone a happy Sunday! Please, do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch. Arrivederci!


To members of the Italian Federation of the Boards of Nursing Professions (FNOPI) (3 March 2018)


Paul VI Audience Hall
Saturday, 3 March 2018



Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

I am pleased to meet you and, first and foremost, I would like to express to you my appreciation and my esteem for the most valuable work that you do for so many people and for the good of all of society. Thank you; thank you very much!

I offer my cordial greeting to the President and to the entire National Federation of the Boards of Nursing Professions represented by you today. While originating from a long associative tradition, this Federation can call itself “fledgling”, and is now taking its first steps. Its constitution, confirmed several days ago by the Italian Parliament, sheds more light on the value of the nursing professions and guarantees a greater appreciation of your professionalism. With almost 450 members, you form the largest Italian professional board, and you also represent a point of reference for other categories of professionals. The common journey that you take allows you not only to have a single voice and greater contractual power, but above all to share the values and aims that are at the foundation of your work.

The role of nurses in assisting the sick is truly irreplaceable. Unlike any other, the nurse has a direct and continuous relationship with patients, taking care of them on a daily basis, listening to their needs and coming into contact with their bodies, which the nurse attends. It is a particular approach to healthcare which you accomplish with your actions, wholly taking upon yourselves the burden of people’s needs, with that typical concern that patients recognize in you, and which represents a fundamental part in the treatment and healing process.

The International Code of Nursing Ethics, to which the Italian code also aspires, identifies four fundamental responsibilities of your profession: “to promote health, to prevent illness, to restore health and to alleviate suffering. The need for nursing is universal” (Preamble). It entails complex and numerous functions, which touch upon every sphere of care, and which you carry out in cooperation with other professionals of the sector. The curative and preventative, rehabilitative and palliative character of your work demands from you a high level of professionalism, which requires specialization and continuing education, due also to the constant evolution of technologies and treatments.

This professionalism, however, manifests itself not only in the technical sphere, but also and perhaps even more so in the sphere of human relationships. Being in contact with physicians and family members, in addition to the sick, you become, in hospitals, in healthcare facilities and in homes, the crossroads of a thousand relationships, which require attention, competence and compassion. And it is precisely in this synthesis of technical abilities and human sensitivity that the value of your work is fully revealed.

Taking care of women and men, of children and elderly, in every phase of their life, from birth to death, you are tasked with continuous listening, aimed at understanding what the needs of that patient are, in the phase that he or she is experiencing. Before the uniqueness of each situation, indeed, it is never enough to follow a protocol, but a constant — and tiresome! — effort of discernment and attention to the individual person is required. All this makes your profession a veritable mission, and makes you “experts in humanity”, called to carry out an irreplaceable undertaking of humanization in a distracted society which too often leaves the weakest people at the margins, taking interest only in those who “count”, or responding to criteria of efficiency or gain.

Being in contact with patients each day, the sensitivity that you acquire makes of you promoters of life and of people’s dignity. May you be able to recognize the proper limits of technology, which can never become an absolute and relegate human dignity to second place. May you also be attentive to the desire, sometimes unexpressed, for spirituality and religious assistance, which for many patients represents an essential element of life’s meaning and serenity, even more compelling in fragility caused by illness.

For the Church, the sick are people in whom, in a special way, Jesus is present; he identifies himself in them when he says “I was sick and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). Throughout his ministry, Jesus was close to the sick; he approached them with loving kindness and healed so many of them. In meeting the leper who asks Jesus that he be healed, He reaches out his hand and touches him (cf. Mt 8:2-3). The importance of this simple gesture must not escape us: Mosaic law prohibited touching lepers, and forbade them to approach populated areas. However, Jesus goes to the heart of the law, which finds fulfilment in love of neighbour, and in touching the leper He reduces the distance from him, so that he may no longer be separated from the community of men and perceive, through a simple gesture, the closeness of God himself. Thus, the healing that Jesus gives him is not only physical, but goes to the heart, because the leper has not only been healed but also felt loved. Do not forget the “medicine of caresses”: it is so important! A caress, a smile, is full of meaning for the sick person. It is a simple gesture, but it lifts one up; a person feels supported, feels healing is near, feels as a person, not a number. Do not forget it.

Being with the sick and practicing your profession, you personally touch the sick, and more than anything else, you take care of their bodies. When you do so, remember how Jesus touched the leper: not in a distracted, indifferent or annoyed manner, but attentive and loving, so it makes him or her feel respected and taken care of. In doing so, the contact that you establish with patients accompanies them as an echo of God the Father’s closeness, of his tenderness for each one of his children. Precisely tenderness: tenderness is the “key” to understanding the sick. The sick cannot be understood with harshness. Tenderness is the key to understanding them, and is also a precious medicine for their healing. And tenderness passes from the heart to the hands; it passes, with full respect and love, through the “touching” of wounds.

Years ago, a religious confided to me that the most touching phrase ever addressed to him in his life was that of a sick man whom he had assisted in the terminal phase of his illness. “I thank you, Father” — he said — “because you have always spoken to me about God, even without ever naming him”: this is what tenderness does. This is the greatness of the love that we give to others, which is carried hidden within, even if we do not think about it, the love of God himself.

Never tire of being close to people with this human and fraternal manner, always finding the motivation and the impulse to carry out your task. Be careful, too, however, not to expend yourselves until almost consumed, as happens if one becomes involved in patient relationships to the point of becoming absorbed, living in the first person all that happens to them. What you perform is an arduous work, beyond exposure to risks, and excessive involvement, along with the difficulty of the tasks and shifts, could make you lose the freshness and peace that are necessary to you. Be careful!

Another factor that makes the performance of your profession onerous and sometimes unbearable is the shortage of staff, which cannot help to improve the services offered, and which a wise administration cannot envisage in any way as a source of savings.

Mindful of the highly demanding task that you perform, I welcome the occasion to exhort the patients themselves to never take for granted what they receive from you. You too, sick people, be attentive to the humanity of the nurses who assist you. Ask without insisting; do not just expect a smile, but also offer it to those who devote themselves to you. In this regard, an elderly woman told me that, when she goes to the hospital for the treatments she needs, she is so grateful to the doctors and nurses for the work they do that she tries to dress up and look nice to give something to them in turn. Thus, no one should take for granted what the nurses do for them, but always nourish the sense of respect and gratitude owed to you. And with your permission, I would like to pay tribute to a nurse who saved my life. She was a nursing nun: an Italian sister, a Dominican, who was sent to Greece as a teacher, highly educated. But then, again as a nurse, she arrived in Argentina. And when I, at 20 years of age, was on the verge of death, it was she who told the doctors, even arguing with them: “No, this is not good; more must be done”. And thanks to those things, I survived. I thank her so much! I thank her. And I would like to name her here, in front of you: Sr Cornelia Caraglio. A good woman, brave too, to the point of arguing with the doctors. Humble, but certain of what she was doing. And so many lives, so many lives are saved thanks to you! Because you are there all day, and you see what is happening to the sick person. Thank you for all of this!

In greeting you, I express my hope that the Congress, which will take place in the coming days, may be a fruitful occasion for reflection, discussion and sharing. I invoke God’s blessing upon all of you; and you too, please, pray for me.

And now — in silence, because you are of various religious confessions — in silence let us pray to God the Father of us all, that he bless us.

May the Lord bless all of you, and the sick whom you attend.