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14th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference — Day 1

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Father Kaz Chwalek, MIC, led the conference in an opening prayer.

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Father Mark Yavarone, OVM, PhD

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Sister Angela de Fatima Coelho, postulator for the cause for canonization of Sts. Jacinta and Francesco Marto and Sr. Lucia dos Santos, Fatima visionaries

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Sister Angela shares the joy of the Fatima children.

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Nurse Marie Romagnano, Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, take in the story of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

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The Most Rev. Robert McManus, M.A., STD, presented on Catholic and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Institutions

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Speakers join together for a Q&A session.

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Sister Angela, postulator for the cause for canonization of Servant of God Sr. Lucia dos Santos, answers a question about the status of Sr. Lucia's cause for canonization.

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Doctor Ron Sobecks, MD, from the Taussig Cancer Center at the Cleveland Clinic

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Doctor Ron Sobecks presented on how to practice humility in healthcare

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Father Chris Alar, MIC

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Nurse Marie Romagnano and Fr. Chris Alar, MIC

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Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, renowned Divine Mercy expert and theologian

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Dr. Gowri Anandarajah, MD

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Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, International Director of Doctors for Divine Mercy and Founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy

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The Very Rev. Kaz Chwalek, MIC

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The Very Rev. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, concluded the day with a presentation on pastoral care.

Today is the first day of the 14th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference.

8:30 a.m. Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, PhD, began the morning with a presentation on interconnection between the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), by St. John Paul II, and Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family), by Pope Francis.

He told attendees to imagine themselves sitting down with Pope Francis for a counseling session on family life. This, he said, is Amoris Laetitia.

"The Holy Father gives advice on love in a marital relationship, children, and even in-laws!" noted Fr. Yavarone, a professor of bioethics at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. Many have dismissed the whole document over what is now referred to by many as the "smoking footnote" in Chapter 8, as it concerns how to pastorally care for those who are divorced and remarried, without an annulment, in the Church. However, one must not throw out the whole document over one disputed footnote.

Quoting Cardinal Seán O'Malley, Fr. Yavarone advised, "Rather than try to draw immediate conclusions from the text, we are urged to reflect upon it and to ponder patiently and carefully, what the teaching will mean for the Church and for her ministry to families."

Beginning with Veritatis Splendor, Fr. Yavarone explained that when common law and God's law is disregarded, whether ignorantly or not, acts damage the communion of persons (see Veritatis Splendor no. 51).

For example, consider abortion. Even if someone doesn't know it is wrong, it still hurts people and society. A baby is still dead, and the woman is now the mother of a dead child and can suffer grave psychology, and even physical difficulties as a result.

Concerning the "smoking footnote" in Amoris Laetitia, St. John Paul II addressed the issue of divorce and remarriage back in 1981 when he wrote in Familiaris Consortio (Apostolic Exhortation on the Christian family in the Modern World):

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."


In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes the following:

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God's grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church's help to this end (305).



And the footnote says the following:

In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, "I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord's mercy" (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist "is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak". (footnote 351).


Father Yavarone noted that for one to be in mortal sin, one must have full knowledge and a full act of the will.

Therefore, Pope Francis writes:

For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain "irregular" situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any "irregular" situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. ….

If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since "the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases", the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same." (301, 300)


"Therefore, the Holy Father leaves it open for pastoral discernment," Fr. Yavarone said. "So you had various bishops making pastoral decisions on how to implement this, for example the bishops of the Buenos Aires region entitled Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia." The Holy Father has received this particular interpretation and sent a response back acknowledging and approving it.

Concluding, Fr. Yavarone encouraged everyone to read the whole document of Amoris Laetitia and to take to heart the following:
• The door is open for more divorced and remarried couples to receive Communion, though it is not entirely clear to whom.
• The theological justification for such couples to receive Communion is that they may be in objective situation of sin without being guilty of mortal sin.
• The decision to receive Communion should only be made within a process of pastoral accompaniment by a priest "according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop."
• Given the absence of precise guidelines, and the diverse responses of bishops, are we possibly dealing with a decentralization of the decision about who can receive Communion?

Father Yavarone noted that this is not relativism. Relativism is the danger of decentralization, but decentralization can also save you from relativism. There may be people in the world for whom the practical situation of obtaining an annulment is next to impossible, and there are areas in the world, like the United States, where it is a bit easier.

See Fr. Yavarone's full talk here:




9:15 a.m.
Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, then gave a presentation on the topic of transgenderism and how the Catholic Church, through the natural law and science, views this topic.

The Catholic Church views the human person as an incarnate soul, not a body occupied by a soul; souls, by themselves, are neither male nor female; the body determines the sex of the human person; the human soul is directly infused by God; and contemporary gender theory leads to atheism.

See Fr. Yavarone's full talk here:




9:45 a.m. Sister Angela de Fatima Coelho, MD, postulator for the causes of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Sr. Lucia dos Santos, gave the keynote presentation entitled, "Sickness and Suffering on the Lives of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco: Significance for Healthcare Professionals."

Sister Angela presented on how Sts. Jacinta and Francisco dealt with suffering in their lives, especially as she was presenting to Healthcare Professionals who care for people who suffer on a daily basis.

When Francisco couldn't see Our Lady, Lucia asked Our Lady why. She did not answer why.

"Sometimes, my friends, the 'Why God?' is not answered right away," Sr. Angela said. "But do not despair — you will have a long eternity to talk to God about it."

The Blessed Virgin Mary simply told the children that Francisco needed to pray the Rosary. He obeyed. At the sixth or seventh Hail Mary, he began to see Our Lady. The apparitions in Fatima began, for Francisco, with praying the Rosary.

He suffered from the Spanish flu, which led to his death.

Little Jacinta, when sick with the Spanish flu, was asked by Our Lady if she would want to stay on earth longer in order to offer her sufferings for the conversion of sinners. Jacinta said yes, and after being transferred to two different hospitals and suffering greatly physically, her greatest suffering was that she died alone.

The little children weren't saints from birth, rather they experienced a deep conversion when Our Lady asked them, "will you offer yourselves to God?" The children replied, "Yes, we will."

Sister Angela shared that little Lucia said, "These words were like a light in our hearts. They told us who God was, how He loves us, and how we can love Him in return."

"As healthcare professionals," Sr. Angela said, "we may be the only opportunity for our patients to know they are loved by God … we are instruments of God's love. They may not see God or know God, but they see us, and can come to know God through us."

After that, Sr. Angela shared, Jacinta often acted like our Lord, and Francisco often thought about our Lord. They give us an example of active and completive lifestyles. They did not despair in their illnesses and sufferings because they knew who they were offering it for — Jesus, Mary, and for poor sinners. They knew that their lives were not being taken away, they were offering their lives so that others might have life.

"The message of Fatima is a call to intimacy from God," Sr. Angela concluded, "to learn how to become compassionate through suffering like Francisco and Jacinta."

See Sr. Angela's full talk here:



11 a.m. The Most Rev. Bishop Robert McManus, MA, STD, of the diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, presented on Catholic and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Professionals and Institutions.

See Bishop McManus' full talk here:



11:30 a.m. All of the speakers present at the conference joined together to answer questions submitted by conference attendees.

See the full Q&A session here:



1 p.m. Dr. Ron Sobecks, MD, from the Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic gave a presentation on "Models of Humility in Clinical Practice."

The models Dr. Sobecks focused on were Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Fatima visionaries. Their lives, Dr. Sobecks proposed, are the inspiration for healthcare professionals who want to be humble and pray for their patients.

See Dr. Sobecks full talk here:



1:50 p.m. Father Chris Alar, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers, gave a personal testimony and presentation entitled "How Pulmonary Emboli Changed My Life and Perspective on Living and Suffering."

Drawing from a book by Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, entitled "Stepping on the Serpent: The Journey of Trust with Mary," Fr. Chris spoke on how we must trust, especially in the face of fear.

Watch Fr. Chris' full talk here:



2:45 p.m. World-renown expert on Divine Mercy Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, presented on the importance of forgiveness for patients and healthcare professionals.

Watch Fr. Seraphim's full talk here:



4 p.m. Dr. Gowri Anandarajah, MD, professor of family medicine and clinician educator, gave a presentation on Patient-Centered Spiritual Care: "A Practical Approach for Health Professionals."

Watch Dr. Anandarajah's full presentation here:



4:50 p.m. Bryan Thatcher, MD, international director of the Doctors for Divine Mercy and the founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, spoke on living and spreading the message of Divine Mercy in the home and workplace.

Watch Dr. Thatcher's full talk here:



5:25 p.m. To conclude day 1 of the conference, the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, gave a presentation entitled, "How to Talk to Patients About Spiritual Matters in the Event of Serious Injury or Terminal Illness."

Father Kaz began by sharing his own experience of how he began hospital ministry.

The first day in the hospital, a Code Blue came to the emergency room. With no experience, and a lot of fear, he was sent to the ER. From the fourth floor where he was down to the first floor he was filled with fear.

Father Kaz shared, "Suddenly, I heard clearly in my heart, "Why are you praying for your own fears? Pray for those who are in need." I knew immediately knew that I needed to stop focusing on my own fears and needed to focus on those in need. From that moment, the fear left my heart and has never returned."

Father Kaz continued to share with conference attendees the importance of the ministry of presence and care for a patient, beyond that of prescribing and treating illnesses.

The conference will continue tomorrow with a full day of presentations.

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