While preparing an article for the next corporal work of mercy (visiting the sick), I immediately thought of one pope who highlighted this practice during his pontificate. That pope was St. John Paul II, who throughout his life emphasized the habit of “visiting the sick.” He is an inspiration to me and challenges us all to renew our own efforts in performing this work of mercy.

John Paul II – Friend of the Sick

As the Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła often visited the sick and aging throughout his diocese. He saw being present to those who were suffering as a central part of his ministry and believed that their prayers and sacrifices gave him vitality. After celebrating Mass at the chapel of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Kraków, Archbishop Wojtyła visited those in the infirmary where he said to them:

Although I am young and strong, although I fly in airplanes, climb mountains, ski, I still turn to the weakest, so that by the riches of their suffering they may bring down the strength and power of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of God upon my work in the Archdiocese” (Making Of The Pope Of The Millennium: Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyla)

After being elected pope, John Paul II’s first trip outside the Vatican was to visit one of his good friends at the Gemelli hospital recovering from a massive stroke. During his short visit John Paul II spoke to the patients and asked for their prayers. He later recalled:

“I said to the patients that I counted greatly, very greatly indeed, on them: for their prayers and especially for the offering of their sufferings, which could provide me with a special strength, a strength that was and is necessary to me in order to perform in a less worthy manner my serious duties in the bosom of the church of Christ” (Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves)

John Paul II frequented Gemelli throughout his pontificate both as a visitor and as a patient. He even jokingly called the hospital his third papal residence, “Vatican III.”

While on a papal trip to Nigeria in 1982, John Paul II visited a hospital where he spoke words of comfort to the sick and related his own experience being in a hospital:

“Although God allows suffering to exist in the world, he does not enjoy it. Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, loved the sick; he devoted a great part of his earthly ministry to healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. Our God is a God of compassion and consolation.

I also know personally what it means to be sick and to stay in hospital for a long time, and how it is possible to comfort and support others who share the same lot of confinement and suffering, and how necessary it is to pray for the sick and to show them one’s loving concern (Address in St. Charles Borromeo Hospital).

We all know what it feels like to be sick and at home or in a hospital. It is isolating and often very painful. The presence of visitors can often lift-up the heart of a patient and remind them that they are not alone.

The need for visitors is at its highest during the Christmas season. During a time when families get together in their homes to celebrate the birth of Christ, thousands of individuals are confined to hospital beds or nursing homes and feel most alone.

The challenge for us is to get outside of our comfort zone and do something for others, the weakest, and most vulnerable of society.

Let us ask for Saint John Paul II’s intercession this Christmas season so that we can have the courage to visit the sick and imitate his example of Christ-like love.