On the World Day of the Sick, celebrated today, February 11, bishops are pushing the new Irish government to ensure quality healthcare for all.

Driving the news

The count from the General Election held February 8 revealed Fianna Fáil won the most seats in the Dáil with 38, ahead of Sinn Féin on 37 and Fine Gael on 35.

The close result means negotiations to form a new government are likely to be difficult, and prolonged.

But speaking Sunday at a service in Blackrock, Co Dublin, where he blessed the sick and their carers, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin urged citizens to remember “we have an obligation to keep our leaders to their words” on healthcare and to ensure that the “many promises we’ve heard in these election days won’t remain just empty words”.

Whatever the make-up of the new government, it must address the “strange incongruence” in Ireland where despite the “astonishing progress in medical science, so many aspects of our healthcare system are scandalous”, Martin warned.

“Our extraordinary doctors, nurses and carers feel so often let down” by the fact that, in the current system, “sick children and elderly are left waiting and exasperated”, he added.

“… [D]espite the progress of medical science”, many patients “suffer from a deep loneliness and an abandonment, a sense of being rejected and forgotten, that society simply passes them by and leaves them on their own”, the archbishop deplored, ahead of the World Day of the Sick today.

Go deeper

Before the elections, the bishops of Armagh, Eamon Martin and Michael Router, had warned politicians that “our health system must be enabled to put patients’ needs first, reducing waiting time for treatment and ending the indignity of an ill person being left on a trolley for long periods”.

The Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, had decried that “the health service, in spite of the hard work and dedication of doctors and nurses, is in a permanent state of crisis”.

Doran reminded election candidates that “the basic needs of people, such as housing, poverty, education and healthcare are all connected”.

“We don’t need promises from politicians; what we need is evidence of joined up thinking”, the bishop warned on the healthcare crisis.

“Pope Francis asks us to remember ‘that life is sacred and belongs to God; hence it is inviolable and no one can claim the right to dispose of it freely’” – Bishop Router

Meanwhile, Bishop Michael Router, chair of the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, welcomed Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Sick which takes place 11 February, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Bishop Router said that the Pope reminds us that Jesus always addresses a word of hope to those who are hurt or afflicted especially, the sick, the oppressed and the poor and that his words of hope are addressed especially to the sick through this annual day of prayer.

In his message Pope Francis tells us that, “Jesus does not make demands of those who endure situations of frailty, suffering and weakness, but offers His mercy and His comforting presence … Because He Himself became frail, endured human suffering and received comfort from His Father.”

Bishop Michael stated that the Pope’s message asks us to promote a more holistic approach to those who are sick or suffering. Rather than thinking only about curing we should also reflect on the quality of our caring.

Pope Francis urges healthcare professionals, to adopt this approach and to see the person behind the patient.

Those who work in the field of medicine are encouraged by the Pope to “strive to promote the dignity and life of each person, and reject any compromise in the direction of euthanasia, assisted suicide or suppression of life, even in the case of terminal illness”.

Pope Francis also asks us to remember “that life is sacred and belongs to God; hence it is inviolable and no one can claim the right to dispose of it freely”.

This may involve conscientious objection from time to time in order to stay true to one’s yes to life. The healthcare professional who may no longer be able to provide a cure can still provide care and healing and bring comfort and relief.

Bishop Router also highlighted that Pope Francis asks us to remember those who through warfare or poverty have no access to healthcare.

The Pope encourages governments and healthcare institutions “to cooperate in ensuring that everyone has access to suitable treatments for preserving and restoring their health”.

The Council for Healthcare strongly encourages everyone to read and reflect on the Pope’s message, particularly when health is so much in the news at present with the serious outbreak of the coronavirus in China and in several other countries. Such events force us to reflect on the fragility of life. The Council encourages everyone to pray for those affected and for the continued efforts to bring the outbreak under control.

(Source: Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference)

Next on Novena:

Pope’s message for World Day of the Sick: Urging healthcare for all, Francis presses hospitals, governments “not to neglect social justice for financial concerns”

World Day of the Sick: Pope encourages “relational approach – not merely clinical – with patient”

“Put people first”: Armagh bishops plead with Irish election candidates for “truly compassionate society”

Irish elections: Bishops demand answers on homelessness, environment, intolerance, youth


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.