World Day of the Sick is observed every year on 11th February. Since the date fell on a Sunday this year, the parish priest of the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM), Penang, Fr Martin Arlando, decided to celebrate it at the 9 am morning Mass as he wanted the congregation to see that the parish consisted not only of the able-bodied but also the sick and the homebound. Thus, slowly but surely, they came that Sunday: the sick, the elderly, the infirm, the immobile. There were 43 Catholic and 3 non-Catholic men, women and children, their ages ranging from 2 to 88 years. Some walked with the aid of walking sticks or supported by their family members. Others were brought in wheelchairs while yet others were carried by their caregivers. One even arrived in an ambulance and was wheeled into the church on a stretcher. They were all warmly welcomed by the parish’s Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) who were the main hosts for the day, and quickly escorted to the special seating area set up for them in the front pews.
In his homily, Fr Martin stressed the need to build a culture of inclusion and integrate the marginalized into the community. He said that so often we turned a blind eye to those among us who were sick and in need, thinking that in order to make a difference, we had to accomplish great acts of mercy when in fact, even a small act could help immensely. He continued by expounding the Gospel reading of the day (Mark 1:40-45) in which Jesus touched and healed a leper. Lepers were required by the Law to live apart “outside the camp” because they were believed to be unclean and contagious. The leper had broken the Law by approaching Jesus and submitting himself to be cured. On his part, Jesus had crossed the boundaries of his culture and the Law by allowing the leper to come near him and by touching him. Fr Martin said that in the same way, we needed to cross those boundaries that separate us from Jesus and present ourselves to him, trusting him to heal and save us. And just as Jesus did, we ought to reach across boundaries to touch those in need of love and acceptance.
Fr Martin went on to explain that the leper, believing in Jesus’ power, was in fact asking for both physical and spiritual healing. And Jesus, acting out of love, made him clean again, physically and spiritually. At this point, the homily was paused while the youth of the parish came forward to perform a skit, based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, which depicted how love could make a difference. Fr Martin wrapped up his homily by exhorting all those who were sick to offer up their suffering to God and be true witnesses of God by their example. He also thanked all the caregivers for bringing their charges to church that day, acknowledging that they were often overlooked in spite of the importance of their role which required so much patience and sacrifice from them. He then invited the congregation to meet the sick and their caregivers after Mass in order to welcome them and trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads in recognition that God had chosen them to bear this cross in their lives. Fr Martin then proceeded to walk among the congregation, anointing and blessing the sick in attendance.
After Mass, the sick each received a symbolic gift of an ang pow and mandarin oranges from Fr Martin. Many parishioners came forward to greet them and trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads. They were then ushered into Faustina Hall where a hearty brunch awaited them. There was no shortage of banter and camaraderie as caregivers and their charges socialized and met up with friends while the EMHC plied everyone with food, which included a wide selection of Chinese New Year goodies. As they chatted away, several people commented on the choir’s beautiful singing during the Mass and the aptness of the day’s readings. Some mentioned that they had found the skit meaningful and refreshing at the same time. Lilian Almeida, who is the primary caregiver to her husband, Bruno, had been bringing him to church every year on World Day of the Sick. She said that it was an opportunity for them to hear Mass together and each time, she would go home feeling consoled and re-energized to meet the challenges ahead. Another parishioner, Gilda Joseph, added that the whole celebration had caused her to reflect and feel grateful for her own good health. Everyone remarked that they were very impressed by the whole event and gave the EMHC top marks for their hospitality, attentiveness and caring approach throughout the whole event.
Ng Wai Queen.
12th February, 2018