Saturday, February 11, 2006

B16: The Mental Health Pope

Today, the Feast of the Madonna of Lourdes, marks Catholicism's annual World Day of the Sick. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health-Care Workers, was papal legate to the international celebration, held this year in Adelaide, Australia. In Rome, as seen above, Benedict XVI presided at a vigil in St. Peter's.

More and more, the significant bits of writing which emanate almost daily from the Holy See are bearing the personal stamp of this pontificate. Last Saturday's statement on religious provocation, the very Teutonic roll-out of the encyclical and the message for Lent all keep running along similar lines and bear a similar style -- that of Joseph Ratzinger, who is said to oversee it all closely.

Indeed, despite a heavily-anticipated motu proprio expected shortly and heavy speculation on the coming overhaul of the Vatican's communication operation, it is already well underway. We can only wonder if the Pope is handling it while wearing the blue tracksuits he favors during his leisure periods.

One message-thread which has been notable in recent weeks is the new pontiff's awareness and repeated endorsement of efforts to ensure good mental health. This runs counter to the feelings of some within the church who have long maintained that a good confession is on a par with, or even preferable to, professional psychological treatment.

In late January, when Benedict received the political representatives of the Italian region of Lazio, which includes Rome, the segements of the papal remarks which made headlines were the papal rejection of civil partnerships -- known in Italy as "Pacs" -- and the abortifacient pill RU486.

However, though not covered widely, an emphatic mention was also made of issues of mental illness when the Pope urged that "particular attention should be paid to the many cases of mental suffering and illnesses, in order not to leave families, which often find themselves facing highly difficult situations, without adequate aid."

The endorsement returned again in the indulgences granted by the Pope for this year's Day of the Sick. A plenary indulgence was granted to the caretakers of the sick, with particular note made of who assist "those with mental problems who require greater patience, care and attention."

The caretakers were praised for the "special service they provide."

We all know someone who, whether as a professional, family member or friend, goes out of their way to assist someone who is ill, be it physically, mentally or spiritually. Might this not be an appropriate occasion to say "thank you" -- or even to lend a hand?

Reuters/Dario Pignatelli