Being By Their Side

Jul 11, 2024 | Blog Articles

Before equivocation or sin, what makes us profoundly human and similar is the experience of pain and illness. An experience that becomes the extreme limit of a journey that takes us beyond our comprehension, but leads to the embrace of God! My experience as a man and a priest has often put me “on the side” of those who suffer and live situations of illness. And it takes on the contours of the faces and names of many I have encountered over the years. Different ways of being “at the side”, of accompanying and sharing, saying few words, most of the time in silence, caresses made of glances, warm tears and abandonment to life and, therefore, to God. 

The experience in the Cottolengo ward in Turin, in the long-stay oncology care unit, allowed me to get to know the determination and gentleness of Dina, wounded not only by the disease but above all by loneliness, but no less tenacious and combative; and Mario, who left the ward in tears because he felt at home there and loved by the volunteers, the health workers and the nuns of the hospital. From these and many other experiences, there remains the profound sense of what it means to accompany the sick, the suffering person and his family, from the corridors of the hospital to the loneliest rooms of a house, bringing above all a presence, one’s own and that of God who, even through the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, if not healing the body, can alleviate and give meaning to the radical experience of pain and illness. 

Regarding what it means to be “at their side” and what should be the style of accompanying the sick person, what a Jesuit companion told me about his experience with his father, who was prostrate, unable to communicate and move, remains engraved in my mind. Every time he rested his hand on his father’s, his father pushed it away. The companion, saddened, thought that his father was rejecting him right on his deathbed. But then he had an intuition: instead of resting his hand on his father’s, he gently placed it under his palm. His father no longer pushed it away and they both said goodbye in peace.

Father Michele Papaluca SJ

EYM Italy Vice National Director

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The Pope’s Official Prayer Network

We pray that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick confer to those who receive it and their loved ones the power of the Lord and become ever more a visible sign of compassion and hope for all