More than 2,200 people gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Saturday, Feb. 11, for this year’s World Day of the Sick Mass. 

The day was established by St. Pope John Paul II in 1992 to coincide with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which celebrates the Virgin Mary’s apparitions to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858. Among those in attendance on Saturday were some who have made recent pilgrimages to the Lourdes shrine. 

Archbishop José H. Gomez was joined by Auxiliary Bishops Marc Trudeau and David O’Connell for the Mass, in which participants were also able to receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. 

Thousands filled the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels Feb. 11 to receive special blessings at this year's Mass. (Victor Alemán)

The Mass, co-hosted by the Western Association of the Order of Malta, is “a gift to Los Angelenos,” said David Fuhrman, president of the order’s local chapter. He noted it was as much a way to address the needs of those suffering in body or spirit as it is to offer a blessing for caregivers.

“Whether it is the damaging memory of the pandemic, catastrophes like the earthquake in Turkey, or the devastating war in Ukraine, we are constantly reminded that suffering and death are intrinsic in life,” said Fuhrman. “You have to stake your life and your faith on finding out whether it is possible to transcend the suffering. This World Day of Sick Mass is powerful. It is the spiritual antidote and faith-building experience that Los Angeles needs right now.”

Two years ago during the COVID lockdown, Fuhrman said this Mass was sparsely attended and viewed almost exclusively as a livestream. In 2022, at the height of the Omicron variant surge, only a few hundred were expected in person but more than 1,500 attended. This year’s Mass drew its greatest attendance to date, according to organizers. 

Among the attendees was Amelia Price, a 6-year-old who attends school in Pasadena. Price, who suffers from a rare degenerative disease called metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD), was a “Malade” pilgrim at Lourdes in 2022.

Amelia Price is joined by Sister Marie Estelle of the Carmelites at Santa Teresita in Duarte during the World Day of the Sick Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. (Rowena Itchon)

The gifts were also presented by three recent LA-area Malade pilgrims: Lori Seyer, Genie Valarao, and Gil Lazatin.

Malta representatives said they gave out some 2,200 bottles of holy water from the spring at Lourdes, known for its healing powers. A shipment of the Lourdes water had arrived the previous weekend and students from Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School in East Hollywood filled the small bottles. Students from Holy Innocents School in Long Beach distributed bottles to attendees and collected prayer petitions that will be delivered to Lourdes later this May.

Fuhrman said he has served on eight pilgrimages to Lourdes with the Western Association of the Order of Malta. Each trip requires at least 275 members of the order and volunteers to serve 50 Malades and their companions for the week. The trip can be challenging for those ill or elderly.

Msgr. Antonio Cacciapuoti, pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, administers the anointing of the sick to 6-year-old Amelia Price World Day of the Sick Mass Feb. 11, 2023. (Victor Alemán)

“For many, Lourdes is too far and too expensive to experience in person, so I view the World Day of the Sick Mass as our way to bring the spirit of Lourdes to the faithful of Los Angeles,” said Fuhrman, who is also president of the Dan Murphy Foundation, focused on inner-city Catholic high school formation.

Dame of Malta Rowena Itchon said she was moved while holding the sacred oils as the bishops and priests administered the rite of anointing: “As people came to the altar, I could see in their eyes every emotion, from deep suffering, to wonder, to sublime joy. I will never forget that.”

Itchon also said that while petition cards were given out, many were “writing messages to Our Lady on any scrap of paper they could find. Some attendees pressed bits of paper into my hands. I was overwhelmed and deeply honored.”