Francis Gonsalves is a professor of theology. He can be contacted at

Mystic Mantra: Healing in our field hospital

Published Feb 8, 2018, 1:11 am IST
Updated Feb 8, 2018, 1:11 am IST
By contrast, suffering refers to the mental and psychological aspects of sickness.
Pope Francis
 Pope Francis

Tending to a cancer patient on deathbed, an oncologist said: “You won’t live long. Have you any last wish?” The patient whispered, “Yes. Can you find me another doctor?” This week ends with “World Day of the Sick” (February 11) and began with “World Cancer Day” (February 4) — a global event with “We can, I can” as this year’s motto.  What can you, I, we, do?

Sickness and suffering is part of our humanness. Buddha has incisive insights into dukkh — its causes and cures. The main cause of our suffering is samudaya or tanha — that craving to possess more. Uncontrolled desire, which is self-defeating and normally stays unfulfilled, leads to dejection and depression. Thus, if I’m keen on inhabiting a healthier world, I must first cure myself.


Pain and suffering are not synonyms. Pain refers to the bodily hurt borne by the one struck with, say, cancer. Animals too feel pain when beaten or burnt.

By contrast, suffering refers to the mental and psychological aspects of sickness. Being incapable of self-reflection, animals don’t really suffer. But the family and friends of the cancer patient suffer (mentally, psychologically) though they don’t feel pain (bodily), since they are related to those in pain and fear about their future.

Mindful of the world’s millions who suffer severely, in his message for “World Day of the Sick”, Pope Francis reiterates his dream of the church becoming like a “field hospital” with: “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of people…. And, we have to start from the ground up.”

Healing begins at home. Look within. Are there areas in your personal life that need healing? Heal yourself.

Next, think of your family. Though they might be medically fit, couldn’t someone be suffering from mild depression, fear of failure, feelings of inferiority, or loneliness? Heal them with a smile, a supportive shoulder, an encouraging word or your silent, supportive presence.

Many of our illnesses are psychosomatic. We wallow in our own puddles of pain, forgetting the tsunamis of suffering that overwhelm millions of our sisters and brothers.

Our world is truly a field hospital. And, there’s a doctor dormant within you. We could excel in what I call “naturopathy” — that God-given natural gift of empathy — which, if nurtured, will make us sensitive to the sighs of the sick and suffering. Sensitive and selfless citizens heal all kinds of illnesses in wondrous ways.

Just as cancer cells multiply uncontrollably, so do happy faces, healthy hearts and healing hands snowball to soothe sick humanity and our wounded world.

There’s urgent need of volunteers in our world’s field hospital. Can’t you and I volunteer? That done, no one will ever think of calling another doctor.