MUMBAI, India – Although the Catholic Church has marked a World Day of the Sick every year since 1992, this time around it has a special twist: The observance launched two days early in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, the city associated above all with Mother Teresa, the Church’s great patron saint of the sick.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, as she’s now known, is “an unmistakable icon of works of mercy and Christian charity,” said Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Bangladesh on Saturday, kicking off the celebrations.

“The celebration of the Day of the Sick is being held in Kolkata because in this city the Saint of Kolkata has made vivid that Charity and Mercy for the Sick, which then has overflowed everywhere,” he said.

“This celebration here will be a clear call to the whole Church and all nations to be ever more attentive to the Gospel and culture of mercy, compassion, generosity and healing of both physical and spiritual life of the sick, and an acknowledgement and invitation to people committed to health care of the infirm of the society,” D’Rozario said.

Each year, the World Day of the Sick falls on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Marian shrine long associated with illness and miraculous healings. It was instituted by St. John Paul II roughly a year after he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which would eventually be a factor in his death in 2005.

The Kolkata events run three days, including direct service to the sick on Saturday. Delegates will be divided into three groups of about 100 people each, who will visit 3 care centers in Kolkata – Shanti Dan (“Gift of Peace”) and Prem Dan (“Gift of Love”) run by the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, and St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Delegates will meet and bless the sick, infirm and the elderly.

Sunday afternoon, a Mass will be celebrated with the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and infirm. Around 2,000 people and some 150 to 200 sick people from various care centers are expected.

On Monday, the actual date of the World Day of the Sick, participants will travel to the Marian shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, popularly known as “Bandel Church,” some 35 miles north of Kolkata. D’Rozario will lead the closing Mass, which also will include anointing of the sick and is expected to be attended by roughly 1,000 people.

D’Rozario quoted from a letter Pope Francis sent nominating the Bangladeshi prelate as his envoy to the Kolkata event.

“Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom we joyfully recently have added among the saints of the Church, will truly rejoice in Heaven, seeing the city so dear to her gracefully welcome people from the whole world coming together for the 27th World Day for the Sick,” Francis wrote.

“But also we, greatly solicitous of the care of the poor and of all suffering people, are filled with joy on account of this special manifestation of exceptional Christian charity,” the pope said. “Therefore, from a distance we desire to greet all sick people on the globe of the earth and to exhort others to have skillful care for them.”

D’Rozario said the pope also gave him a special set of instructions.

“Exhort listeners… so that so many of the brothers and sisters affected by sickness, often left out and rejected by the society which considers them almost useless and to be spent, that they themselves have care of them in the likeness of the Good Samaritan,” the pope wrote.

D’Rozario urged those taking part in the event “to walk in your journey in the footsteps of the Saint of the City of Kolkata, Mother Theresa, beloved of the sick and of us all.”