PHOENIX — It was a day that changed Peter McSparran’s life.

“I was aboard a submarine,” the U.S. Navy veteran, 61, of Sun City West recalled Saturday as he and his family awaited the start of the 2024 World Day of the Sick Mass at St. Bernadette Church.

“We were doing a drill, an alarm went off, and I stood up very fast and hit my head on a steel I-beam.”

The 1987 accident caused a traumatic brain injury to McSparren, leaving the Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner with chronic migraine headaches, periods of anger, and both anxiety and depression.

The episodes come regularly.

McSparren said it also is tough for those around him, but put it all in perspective.

“No matter how bad you think your situation is, there is a lot of people in worse shape,” he said.

All that was put aside for a few moments as God connected with McSparren through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, along with hundreds of others.

Standing in the front pew beside his younger brother, Peter, McSparren bowed his head slightly as Diocese of Phoenix Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares placed his thumb, dipped in holy oil, on McSparran’s forehead, and applied the oil in the shape of a cross. Bishop Nevares then pressed his thumb onto each of McSparran’s palms, praying as he did so: “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

McSparran later sought to describe the experience.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” he said. “From a spiritual and emotional standpoint, it kind of overtakes you.”

Members from the Crosier Fathers and Brothers assisted Bishop Nevares and the Order of Malta.

While allowing God’s healing grace through Jesus, the Sacrament also provides forgiveness of one’s sins, noted Timothy Jefferies, Western U.S. Association chancellor of the Order of Malta, the 900-year-old lay religious order that organizes the Mass and hosts its broadcast via the worldwide ETWN Catholic network.

“It’s one of the most beautiful Sacraments in the holy mother Church,” Jeffries said.
“When one receives the anointing, they are cleansed of sin, they are returned to their baptismal state,” he said, a reference to both the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Is anyone among you sick?,” wrote St. James in his Epistle in the New Testament. “He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the LORD, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the LORD will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15).

The Catechism states, “The special grace of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the Sacrament of Penance (and Reconciliation.)” (CCC 1532)

The anointing also moved others.

“It’s overpowering to watch them come up,” said McSparran’s mother, Mary Jane, 91, also of Sun City West. “It’s really hard to explain. Every one of these people had a smile on their face.”

Mary Frances Massena, 84, recently told by doctors that her cancer has returned, was not going to miss this day.

“You just feel a cleansing in your body and that everything is going to be OK,” she said.
Recipients too ill or infirm to approach clergy by themselves either were met at their pew or led to the anointing area by a knight or dame with the Order of Malta’s Phoenix chapter.

Officially, The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta, and formally recognized by Pope Pascal in the year 1113, the Order’s primary charism is to care for the sick and the poor, especially those touched by war or natural disaster. Providing medical help, refugee care and distributing medicines, the Order helps regardless of a person’s origin or religion.

This year’s Mass broadcast needed a touch of its own — thru technology.
About a half-hour before the opening procession, a transmitter failed, requiring a replacement to be rushed in. Order of Malta Dame Patricia Johnson, KM, the Mass coordinator, said while the new piece arrived within the promised 15 minutes, crews had trouble synching with the EWTN global satellite.

“It’s been a day of miracles,” Johnson smiled after the link was restored.

The video replay can be viewed here:

Established by St. John Paul II in 1992 – a year after the pontiff was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, World Day of the Sick is observed in churches and cathedrals worldwide, but its global telecast originates in the Diocese of Phoenix.
It is a day dedicated to prayer for all those ill and infirm, as well as their caregivers, John Paul II also wanted the faithful to see Christ in their sick brethren.
The Vatican issues a papal message annually before each observance.
This year, Pope Francis urged prayer for those who are lonely and for the healing of broken relationships.

“God, who is love, created us for communion and endowed us with an innate capacity to enter into relationship with others,” Francis stated.

“The first form of care needed in any illness is compassionate and loving closeness. To care for the sick thus means, above all, to care for their relationships — all of them: with God, (and) others – family members, friends, healthcare workers – with Creation and with themselves,” the pontiff continued.

John Paul II chose Feb. 11 to coincide with the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, the title of the Blessed Virgin Mary recalling her series of appearances to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858.

It is to that site that the Order of Malta leads a yearly pilgrimage of the sick — called “malades,” — to worship and pray at the grotto and nearby chapel and to be touched by the waters said to have healing characteristics.

The term “malade,” is taken from the French word meaning sick or ill.
The Order leads trips throughout the year, staffed by Knights and Dames from 45 nations.

This year’s Western U.S. Association pilgrimage, which includes the Diocese of Phoenix, will take place April 30-May 8. Dozens apply for the Order-funded trip. Those selected are notified in late February. They travel with a caregiver who is on the pilgrimage at their own expense.

The Order also takes hundreds of prayer requests to Lourdes. Cards were handed out at Saturday’s Mass, where recipients completed them and turned them in. Those who did not attend have until late April to submit a request online at

Bishop Nevares thanked the Order for its efforts.

“They have been ministering to the poor and the sick for all of these generations, and we’re so blessed to have them here present with us today,” he said in his Homily.

“The beautiful Order of Malta is the living presence of Jesus among the poor and those who are sick.”

The auxiliary bishop also recognized an emerging area of healing.

Noting Bishop John P. Dolan’s first act after his installation 18 months ago was to establish a Diocesan-level Office of Mental Health Ministry, Bishop Nevares said it is a much-needed area overlooked for generations.

“We thought people with mental health were simply crazy. No, not so,” he said.
Jesus wants all — regardless of condition or illness — to trust in His Divine mercy, love, and compassion, he continued.

“Let us pray for one another that the healing power of Jesus Christ may be experienced in the depth of our heart and soul and mind and restore us to the fullness of life which He so wants to give.”

Even those not anointed recognized the Sacrament’s power and grace.
Colleen Will who has attended for years, starting as a caregiver for her husband, continued going after he died from cancer.

“It gives you so much hope,” the St. Theresa parishioner said. “You see so many people who are struggling, and their faith is still so strong. It’s inspiring. The whole thing is so beautiful.”


Read Pope Francis’ full World Day of the Sick 2024 address online at:

Order of Malta, Western U.S. Association