Vatican City, 9 November 2013 (VIS) – This morning, in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, the Pope received in audience seven thousand members of the Italian National Union for the Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines (UNITALSI), an association which has for 110 years been dedicated to the sick or those in frail conditions in an “evangelical” fashion, as the Holy Father said in his address, in which he emphasised that their work “is not a form of welfare or philanthropy, but rather the proclamation of the Gospel of charity and the ministry of consolation”.
The members of UNITALSI are “men and women … who, moved by the love of Christ and following the example of the Good Samaritan, do not turn away when faced with suffering”. The Pope continued, “The poor, even those who are poor in terms of health, are a wealth for the Church, and you, in UNITALSI, along with other ecclesiastical bodies, have received the gift and the commitment of gathering this richness, of helping to recognise its value, and not only for the Church herself but for society as a whole”.
“Today's cultural and social context tends to hide physical frailty, to consider it as merely a problem, which requires resignation and pity, or at times the rejection of people. UNITALSI is called to be a prophetic sign and to go against this worldly logic, helping the suffering to be protagonists in society, in the Church and also in the association itself. … This means fully valuing the presence and the witness of frail and suffering people, not only as the focus of the work of evangelisation, but as active subjects themselves of this apostolic action.
Francis encouraged the sick persons present not to think of themselves “solely as the object of solidarity and charity”, but instead as “fully integrated in the life and the mission of the Church. You have your place, a specific role in … all ecclesial environments. Your presence … your prayer, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world … are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure to the Church”.
The most important moment during the year for UNITALSI is the pilgrimage to the marian sanctuaries, especially to Lourdes, and both the apostolic style and the spirituality of the organisation are of a strongly marian nature. Therefore, the Pope invited them to “discover the deepest reasons” for this and to “imitate the maternity of Mary, the maternal care that she has for each one of us”. He recalled the miracle of the marriage at Cana, when Mary begged Jesus to intervene when the couple were left without wine.
“Mary's intervention shows the care of a mother towards humanity. It is a care attentive to our truest needs: Mary knows what we need. She cares for us, intercedes before Jesus for us and asks for each one of us the gift of “new wine”, love, the grace that salves us”.