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Treat the ailment. Treat the disease. But do so hand in hand with treating the person and treating the soul.
That was the clarion call made to 143 healthcare professionals at the 11th Annual Divine Mercy "Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality" Conference on May 6-7, 2015, at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sponsored by Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, a worldwide apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, the conference included some of the leading names in medicine, bioethics, and the spirituality of the Polish mystic St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.
As clinical breakthroughs transform healthcare for the betterment of physical health, the conference underscored the critical role healthcare professionals must play to rectify the inadequate balance between science and spirituality.
"In a world wrestling with the moral and ethical implications of medical advances, we cannot leave God out of the equation," said Marie Romagnano, RN, BSN, CRC, CCM, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy. "That means that, in addition to providing the best medical care, we have to make sure patients have the best spiritual care as well. All of the incredible advancements in medicine and science don't change the simple fact that spirituality can bring comfort, even healing — even redemption — for the injured, sick, and dying."
Moreover, she said, bringing this attitude to mainstream medical practices "is not only advisable; it's required." Indeed, the independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 15,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the United States, requires that spiritual assessments be made of patients.
"That means," said Marie, "we must ask what type of spiritual/religious support the patient desires; is there a role of church/synagogue in the patient's life; how does their faith help them cope with illness; things like that."
Meanwhile, statistics bear out the fact that inserting spirituality into patient care has wide public support. Drawing upon several independent studies, Dr. Bryan Thatcher said 90 percent of patients surveyed believe in God, and 70 percent point to religion as an important influence in their lives.
"At the same time, both the family of patients and the caregivers commonly rely on spirituality to help them get through difficulties," said Dr. Thatcher, the international director of Doctors for Divine Mercy and founder of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers. An inpatient survey concluded that 77 percent of patients said physicians should address patients' spiritual beliefs; 57 percent of inpatients with terminal disease reported spiritual distress; and 72 percent of patients said their spiritual needs are not being met by medical system, Dr. Thatcher said.
"This should be proof enough that we need to take this to heart. Be courageous," said Dr. Thatcher, co-author of the new Marian Press title At the Bedside of the Sick and Dying: A Guide for Parish Ministry, Family, and Friends. "The majority of people are believers, and the families need and rely on spirituality to cope, and more say the medical system is failing them," he said.
No longer a practicing physician, Dr. Thatcher said that, looking back to his medical career, he has one regret: He once viewed medical care as simply "the mechanical treatment " of disease. "I didn't think of calling a priest and praying." He said, "There are so many people who are alone and going through death alone, and we have to be cognizant of this, not just of the mechanics."
He urged the attendees to draw upon the saints of the Church for guidance. He pointed to St. Dr. Giuseppe Moscati (1880-1927), the "holy physician of Naples," who provided free healthcare for the poor; Blessed Maria Quattrocchi (1884-1965), a Red Cross nurse who, during World War II, opened her home to refugees and who incorporated catechesis in her patient care; and St. Faustina (1905-1938), who followed the Lord's call to share with the world the critical spiritual needs of the dying. Saint Faustina wrote:
I often attend upon the dying and through entreaties obtain for them trust in God's mercy, and I implore God for an abundance of divine grace, which is always victorious. God's mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God's powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God's mercy! But — horror — there are also souls who voluntarily and consciously reject and scorn this grace! Although a soul is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God. But sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell; they make useless all the prayers that other souls offer to God for them and even the efforts of God Himself... (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1698).
"Refocus," Dr. Thatcher urged the healthcare workers. "These are the type of people we need to be. ... This is going to overcome the misguided steps people take toward the truth. Charity, not science, has transformed the world."
Ironically, the scheduled keynote speaker — Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the president of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Workers — was ill and couldn't attend the conference. Doctor's orders.
Fortunately, the Archbishop sent the text of his two talks, which were read aloud by the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Marian Fathers based in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Here's the Archbishop's first talk: "The Revision and Updating of the Charter for Healthcare Workers".
Here's his second talk, "The Dimensions of Frailty".
A highlight of the conference was the day-two question-and-answer session led by Most Rev. Robert McManus, bishop of Worcester Massachusetts. The session was titled "Faith and Reason in Service to the Sick and Dying." The panelists included Fr. Kaz; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, world-renowned expert in Divine Mercy and the spirituality of St. Faustina; Nurse Marie; Dr. Thatcher; Dr. Paul Carpentier, fertility care medical consultant; Dr. Mark Rollo, a family practitioner; Dr. Ronald M. Sobecks of the Cleveland Clinic's Department of Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorder; and Ellen Rohan-Ball, PT, MS, CCS, MDiv., of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital at Massachusetts General Hospital.
View the panel discussion:
The panelists also gave individual talks during the conference.
Here's Fr. Seraphim's talk on May 7, titled "Trust".
Doctor George Delgado, a family medical practitioner and director of the non-profit group Abortion Pill Reversal, stunned many attendees with his report of the success of a reversal treatment for women who take the abortion pill mifepristone, also known as RU 486. Abortion Pill Reversal is a program of Culture of Life Family Services, headquartered in San Diego, California. It's now a network of more than 270 physicians worldwide.
"For those women who have taken the abortion pill and then regret it," he said, "this gives people a second chance."
Two hundred women have undergone the simple, inexpensive, time-sensitive treatment. Sixty percent of them went on to have successful pregnancies, he said.
"The gratitude, even from those who have had failed reversals, is like nothing I've ever received in my medical career," Dr. Delgado said.
To learn more, visit abortionpillreversal.com. Also, for women seeking an abortion pill reversal, call the 24/7 hotline: (877) 558-0333.
Doctor Delgado urged attendees to get the word out about the program to the public and to healthcare professionals.
Fittingly, Fr. Kaz presented Dr. Delgado with a Marian-produced framed canvas image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the "protectress of the unborn."
Among the many speakers was David Came, the managing editor of Marian Helper magazine, who spoke about his battle with Parkinson's disease. His "spiritual pointers" to healthcare workers included "trust in Jesus even more" and to "realize that when we suffer with love, it becomes redemptive."
Taking into account all the books, magazines, newsletters, and pamphlets whose publication he has overseen during his 20-year career with the Marians, David said, "My greatest mission may be to offer up all of my suffering and unite it with the suffering of the Lord for the salvation of souls."
Prompted by his Parkinson's, David is retiring next month. His presentation included the following video:
Toward the closing of the conference, Fr. Kaz gave attendees some "homework."
Read Scripture. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read St. Faustina's Diary, he said.
"Taste and see the beauty of God communicating Himself to us," he said.
Meditate on the Apostles' Creed and the Our Father, he advised. Delve into the writings of Pope Francis, including his papal bull announcing the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Read about the meaning of love found in Corinthians 13, he said.
Read as a soul in need of healing — physical, spiritual, and emotional. It's never too late to love God, he said. To underscore his point, he concluded with a beautiful passage from St. Augustine's Confessions:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Nurse Marie concluded with an overview of some traumatic injury cases she has overseen in recent years. Even — or especially — amidst great suffering, she said, God brings about an even greater good.
The best healthcare, she said, must include giving prayerful love to the suffering patient, "assuring him/her how close he/she is to God, how deeply human suffering touched Him and moves Him to draw near with tenderness, help, and comfort."
View highlights of day two of the conference: