Embracing the Sickdi Silvia Ceccarelli
Why them and not me? This is what the heart whispers when we see close up the struggles of women, men, and children affected by Huntington’s disease, a hereditary genetic disorder that strikes a community of people who too often and unjustly are made to feel a deep sense of shame. Such a large group of people, as those who joined together in a special audience with Pope Francis held in May on this neurodegenerative disorder, had never been seen before, people with the courage to not surrender to a pathology that undermines the body and mind beyond all possible imagination, and with the strength to not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by fear and resignation.
All of them come from very difficult situations, where the drama of a disease that researchers continue to study tirelessly seeking better results in terms of care and assistance, is combined with the conditions of economic poverty and misery in which they are forced to live. Arriving from countries throughout the world (Puerto Rico, Russia, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Chile, Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy, etc.), each patient, accompanied by a family member, confronted a long and tiring journey with tenacity and determination in order to meet the Holy Father. In his meeting with the sick, Pope Francis extended a warm welcome to those who bear the devastating signs of the disease, thanking the families, the doctors, the volunteers and the associations who untiringly walk alongside each of them with love and patience.
The Pope listened to their stories, the challenges and the immense struggles they face on a daily basis, as well as the innumerable difficulties engendered by a disabling condition that raises barriers, leading to marginalisation and allowing the sick to sink into a state of shame and abandonment. Francis urged them to follow the example of Jesus, to draw from him the strength that he was able to transmit to the people. For Jesus, disease does not constitute an impediment, and this is why he would meet with the sick and challenge any manifestation of blame or exclusion. Fragile people are the most precious, and no disease can take away their dignity. No disease can diminish the inestimable human value that each individual knows he has within himself. Those who met Jesus felt loved, listened to, understood. May the Lord – said Pope Francis – bless the work of the doctors, family members, and volunteers, and be the point of reference for the families so that they can endeavour not only to help but also to sow the seeds of hope.
The path of good passes even though suffering, a path that can – and must – be walked together. St. Francis experienced the drama of illness, but he never tried to evade it, because despite the physical torments that prevented the normal pursuit of his work, he was sure that in every wound the passion of Christ was relived, and that the same suffering that Christ experienced first-hand could be converted into joy and inspiration. May those who suffer never be left alone! The virtual embrace of the Pope should represent, in this sense, a real change for the future of these people.