Pope Has 'No Complex About Appearing Frail,' Health Care Bishop Says

MADRID, Spain — Pope John Paul II is evangelizing with his suffering, a Vatican aide says.

Bishop José Luis Redrado, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and the only bishop in the history of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, talked to Zenit news service about the new evangelization of the world of suffering and health and the witness of life that the 83-year-old Pope is carrying out.

What is the principal task of the Church in the realm of health care?

The Church has always been present in the health realm because she responds to the message that Jesus himself left to her: “Go, baptize and cure the sick.”

Throughout the history of the Church we see how she has been attentive to the service of the sick. She has had champions of charity, like (St.) John of God, (St.) Camillus of Lellis, St. Vincent de Paul and an enormous army, especially of women, at the end of the 19th century. The Church has been very attentive especially in times of crisis in the world.

The present Pope is also a champion of attention to the world of the sick. When his health was brilliant and strong, we all saw him give encouragement with his word; but when he became ill, he has given us an example with his situation. I myself published an article in [the review] Ecclesia in which I referred to him as “the hospital professor.” The Pope jokes that he has three residences: the Vatican, Castel Gandolfo and the Gemelli Hospital in Rome.

What are the functions of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers?

The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers coordinates and animates from the Holy See all the organizations involved with health.

This Pope has instituted dicast-eries for culture, the family and health pastoral care — three aspects that characterized the Pope even before he was elected, because he wanted to bring to the papacy important things that he himself experienced and that are of great moment today.

Another mediation instituted by this Pope, which is multiplying the Church's presence in the world of the sick, is the World Day of the Sick, which is observed every year on Feb. 11. The pontifical council is responsible for organizing it worldwide; every year it is held in a different continent.

Last year it was in the American continent, in Washington. This year we are going to Lourdes, because the 150th anniversary will be celebrated there of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and Lourdes is a special place. Moreover, it was at Lourdes that the 1st Day of the Sick was held, where we now return after having been to all the continents.

Why is it that some men are reconciled with God while suffering and others in such circumstances rebel against him?

The New Evangelization is carried out through the cross, but the acceptance or rejection of it depends much on a person's psychological sensitivity. Man cannot avoid what is happening to him, good or bad. Sickness is a bad thing, but it will be a good thing in the end, if a person grows in the way he sees the sickness.

If man rebels against sickness, it is an evil; if he continues to be rebellious, it is an evil. But if he gradually moves toward acceptance and adds love to his illness as he has loved the Lord, in the end it is a good thing for the person, because he discovers a new way of seeing things and even conversion. The face of God comes closer, as God was never far away. It is a mystery.

Sickness is an occasion in a patient's life that is not easy to live through, but if he opens up to a new experience, an experience of faith and love, the patient will discover a much richer, more magnificent reality of God.

The patient experiences a Good Friday of pain, suffering, but he is not closed in on himself. Rather, like the Lord, he walks toward the resurrection. If man shuts himself up in his Good Friday, suffering without a way “toward” his resurrection, then his suffering is useless. If his suffering is open to hope, moving forward with pain, effort, frailty toward a new reality, then he experiences life and resurrection.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil reported an important fact at the United Nations: 25% of AIDS patients worldwide are cared for by the Church. What does this care consist of, exactly?

We have made a study in the pontifical council, from which the cardinal took his data, which corresponds to a reality we have verified sociologically.

We start from the fact that the Church has always been in the vanguard of everything that has occurred in the world of health. When there has been an epidemic, the Church has been there; when AIDS surfaced, the Church did not condemn but addressed the problem with mercy. The Church has inherited this capacity of acceptance and mercy from Jesus, who always accepted the marginalized.

When the Church is not merciful, it is not the Church of Jesus, which has its martyrs and prophets, its charitable gestures. A Church without martyrs and prophets is not the Church of Jesus, and a Church without the “imaginative charity” that the Pope talks about is not the Church of Jesus.

This is the New Evangelization, that of new persons, that of the evangelizer who has converted to the Gospel and proclaims it, who is a witness. This is why the converted patient, aware of what the cross means, is the best evangelizer. Whoever has not had an experience of suffering at any level has probably not matured in life as a person.

To tell the truth, life is difficult. Those who come after us, even if they have more means, will have a more difficult time, because the psychological aspects will be harder. Depression is the illness of the future, not AIDS, which will be combated. Depression is now the fifth major cause of absence from work. In 10 years' time, it will be the third cause. To have someone who is depressed near you, in the family, is not the same as talking about it.

This November the pontifical council is organizing the 18th international conference on depression, because we see that it is the illness of the future.