Three Rings. Three Cheers!

The following is the second part in a two-part series on the annual Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy conference on May 5-6. Read part one.

Nurse Marie Romagnano has an alphabet after her name: RN, BSN, CRC, CCM. You might call her letter perfect. That's how this force of nature and God tries to do things. She has one speed - "all out" - and maintains the optical illusion of appearing in more than one place at a time. At least we think it's an illusion on the assumption that she hasn't yet mastered bilocation. Notice the coordinating conjunction "yet."

As founder and director of the Marian Fathers' apostolate Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, Marie stages an annual event that camps inside the intersection of three large and socially relevant circles: Medicine, Ethics, and Spirituality. In this writer's mind's eye, the circles resemble the old logo for Ballantine Beer and, going from the beery to the sublime, the interlocking rings of the ancient symbol for the Holy Trinity.

Ballantine's rings stood for Purity, Body, and Flavor, which come to think of it, can nicely suffice for the mission and methods of Marie's healthcare apostolate.

Purity reflects the apostolate's mission to put healthcare professionals onto a solid, reliable, and trustworthy spiritual path. Body evokes the purpose of doctors, nurses, and related workers to bring health and healing, comfort and care. Flavor can describe the collegial and astute tone of Marie's conference, conducted again this year May 5-6 at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass.

Attendees Unlike Any Other
Attendees at the Healthcare conference are unlike any other of the audiences at any of the many Divine Mercy conferences the Marian Fathers conduct throughout the country. These are men and women of science, trained to respect data, and taught to rely upon rationality and empirical information. To see them show up in the hundreds at a conference on God's mercy stands as a powerful testimony to the compatibility of science and faith.

"It's been a powerful event for me," said therapist Elaine Carbon of Drums, Penn. "On my way here [to Worcester], I stopped at the [National] Shrine [of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.]. "I wanted to learn more about St. Faustina. I was especially curious about attending [the conference] this since I read that the apostolate began with nurses in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. I'm impressed."

Irene Belcher, RN, BSN, CCM, vice president of Disability Care Management Professionals in Wilkes Barre, Penn., shared her story of being diagnosed with cancer two years ago. She had learned of her illness after her father underwent bypass surgery. The setbacks, a low and challenging time, motivated Irene to look for answers in her faith.

"The most important thing I have learned at this conference is trust," Irene said. "In my prayers, all that was coming up was the word 'trust, trust, trust in Jesus.'"

Marcia Passos, a nurse's assistant who works in Brighton, Mass., said the conference taught her an answer to the uneasy question of how to bring religion and faith to the beside without offending patients, families, or administrators. The answer, she learned, lies in the obvious correlation between health and spirituality. She referred specifically to the talk by Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, on Day Two.

'The Ripple Effect of Doing Good'
Doctor Thatcher, founder and director of the Marian apostolate Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy and international director of Doctors for Divine Mercy, spoke of "spiritual healthcare" and "the ripple effect of doing good."

A medical worker who wants to bring spirituality to a holistic treatment of patients doesn't need to be a saint, Dr. Thatcher said. They need to have good people skills, the most important of which is listening to patients.

"Listening works because it forces you to slow down," Dr. Thatcher said. "When you slow down, you can spend more time with the person. Learning to listen: It's an art form. When you listen to patients, you get to know them as people and not as numbers, you know, 'the one in room 210.' The best way to evangelize is to keep your mouth shut and act compassionately. Let people see you're a Christian by the way you treat them. Mercy is all about forgiveness. When people learn that God has forgiven them, they can forgive themselves. That's when healing occurs. His forgiveness is a bottomless ocean."

That ocean, too, lies in the intersection of God's "three rings" of Love, Mercy, and, yes, Justice, which itself lies within the intersection of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Dr. Scot Bateman: Pre-conversion, Conversion, and Post-Conversion
Another triad intersection can be found in the space articulated by Dr. Scot Bateman, MD, division chief, pediatric critical care, UMass Memorial Medical Center and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at UMass Medical School. Doctor Bateman created that space with God's inspiration from the three phases of his personal spiritual journey: pre-conversion, conversion, and post-conversion.

Doctor Bateman grew up on the shores of Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and found spirituality in the beauty of nature. After early experiences with death (each year, 55,000 babies die, half of them within the first year of life), he realized that "my medical training didn't prepare me for the suffering I was to encounter" as a pediatric physician.

This led to a conversion experience, which Dr. Bateman summed up in this question put to him by Ann Salerno, MD (his future wife) : "Where is God in your life?" He said he wasn't able to articulate the answer but essentially found the "answer" contained in the question. He said asking the question led to an opening for God's presence to pour in. He realized that "God's presence and power can be found precisely in the midst of human weakness."

Doctor Bateman became a Catholic in 2005.

His insight into to relationship of God and suffering keyed his post-conversion period.

"I've been given this gift from God," he said, referring to his faith. "I've discovered the importance of spirituality in healthcare." One thing he tries to do is "take a spiritual history of patients and their families." He then shared recent data from the Journal of American Medicine that corroborates the statistically significant correlation between faith, healing, and recovery.

Father Seraphim: "I'm Overwhelmed at their Faith and their Witness'
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, vice postulator of North America for St. Faustina and director of the Association of Marian Helpers, told attendees, "I am overwhelmed that all of the speakers yesterday and today are foremost in their fields. I am overwhelmed at their faith and their witness."

Father Seraphim, one of the foremost in his field as an expert on St. Faustina and Divine Mercy, spoke eloquently of creation itself as and act of "God's mercy on nothingness." He then gave a memorable definition of mercy: "Love going out to the other - every other - not only for their good but for their highest good."

Mercy, he said, can be found at "the very essence of our existence. Love is God's attitude toward everything outside of Himself." Therefore, he said, "Our attitude to others should be in imitation of that perfect love."

Father Seraphim then spoke of illness as a metaphor of sin and our separation from God. Our eventual purpose in life is to accept God's wish to remove that separation and become one with Him in heaven. When that happens, it is "as if God comes back to Himself, in Absolute Bliss."

Finally, he made the connection between this love and the ministries of allied healthcare: "So this is mercy: Love reaching down to misery."

Day Two concluded with presentations by biomedical ethicist Fr. Germain Kopaczynski, OFM Conv.; Dr. Helen Jackson, MD; Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC; and Nurse Marie. The afternoon session included a panel discussion on bioethics, led by Moral Theologian Bishop Robert McManus, and joined by Dr. John Howland, and the above-mentioned presenters. The audience raised questions on end of life issues and other current medical, bioethical, and spiritual matters.

The conference concluded with Holy Mass in St. Joseph's Chapel at Holy Cross, Bishop McManus as main celebrant and Fr. Kaz as homilist.

Two days, the intersections of multiple three rings, and one purpose: the health and welfare of others.

We give final word on the conference to attendee Donna Kocylowski: "Thank you, Marie, for doing this again."

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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