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Feature News | Wednesday, July 03, 2024

July prayer intention: For the pastoral care of the sick

Pope Francis asks for prayers


VATICAN CITY | Pope Francis‘ prayer intention this month is for the pastoral care of the sick. The Pope Video that accompanies his words is precisely dedicated to the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

In the video message published through the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, Pope Francis asks that we pray that “the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick grant the Lord’s strength to those who receive it and to their loved ones, and that it may become for everyone an ever more visible sign of compassion and hope.”

Consolation, hope’s engine

“When the priest draws near a person to perform the Anointing of the Sick, it is not necessarily to help them say goodbye to life. Thinking this way means giving up every hope. It means taking for granted that after the priest, the undertaker will arrive,” Pope Francis notes at the beginning of the video.

The Church’s sacraments are gifts. They are the ways Jesus uses to bless, enliven, accompany, console us. The Church believes and confesses that the priest comes to our aid by administering the Anointing of the Sick, a sacrament that offers consolation to those who are ill, and to their loved ones.

A sacrament with a communitarian dimension

Pope Francis’ invitation to the entire Church to pray for this is a way of making visible that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is by its nature communitarian and relational.

“In times of pain and illness, it is always good to know that we are not alone. The priest, and those who are present during the Anointing of the Sick, in fact, represent the entire Christian community like one body huddling around those who suffer and their families, nurturing their faith and hope, and supporting them through their prayers and fraternal warmth,” affirmed the Pope before thousands of members of the faithful in a General Audience dedicated to this Sacrament.

Jesus’ closeness

This sacrament guarantees that Jesus can be close to the pain of those who are either ill or elderly, the relief of their sufferings, and the forgiveness of their sins. It is not, however, synonymous with receiving a miracle of bodily healing, or that death is imminent.

The Anointing of the Sick is often the forgotten or least recognized sacrament, the Pope continues. Nevertheless, “it is Jesus himself who comes to relieve those who are sick, to give them strength, to give them hope, to help them; and also to forgive their sins. And this is very beautiful!” Hence, it’s pastoral significance.

The images accompanying Pope Francis’ words – filmed in the two United States’ dioceses of Allentown (Pennsylvania) and Los Angeles (California) – highlight the different contexts in which this sacrament can be administered. The video, produced by a team of professionals from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, weaves together two stories, apparently very different in terms of age and the clinical situation of the sick person, but similar through the grace of the Sacrament and the great affection of their loved ones gathered around the recipient of the Sacrament.

The Anointing of the Sick in light of the Gospels

Father Frédéric Fornos S.J., International Director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, stresses that although many have rediscovered the depth of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, it is still often perceived as a way to prepare the sick for death. “This is what Pope Francis says when he recalls that when someone is seriously ill, we want to postpone the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as long as we can because the idea persists that the undertakers arrive after the priest (General Audience, 26 February 2014). This is why Pope Francis hopes we can rediscover the complete depth and the true meaning of this Sacrament, not only as a preparation for death, but also as a sacrament that offers consolation to the sick in times of serious illness, and strength to their loved ones and those caring for them.”

The sick person is not alone. With the priest and the other people present, the entire Christian community supports the person with their prayers, nourishing his or her faith and hope, assuring them, and their family as well, that they are not alone in their suffering. All of us know people who are sick. Let us pray for them. And if we think they are facing a serious illness, or they are elderly and declining, let us not hesitate to propose that they experience this Sacrament of consolation and hope,” Father Fornos concludes.

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