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12th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference

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Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, explains that when the conscience is properly formed according to the truth, to listen to conscience is to listen to God.

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Father Kaz Chwalek, MIC, greets conference attendees.

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Attendees came from around the country.

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Father Chris Alar, MIC, opens the conference explaining the significance of this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

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"The Love of God will never disappoint you, nor will confuse you. You're not the victim of an illusion," said Fr. Patrice.

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Marie Romagnano, RN, and Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, present Fr. Tad with an image of St. John Paul II.

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Father Tad presents his first talk, titled “Complicated Situations in Pregnancy and Early Induction of Labor.”

By Joan Lamar (May 4, 2016)
The following is part of our coverage of the two-day 12th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference being held in Worcester, Massachusetts, on May 4-5. The conference is sponsored by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy.

— May 4, 2016 —
8:45 a.m.
— Father Chris Alar, MIC, got today's 12th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics and Spirituality Conference started with a talk on the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy and how that relates to healthcare professionals.

Father Chris, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, explained what a Jubilee Year is. It is a year of forgiveness of debt. This idea goes back to Old Testament times and the Church revived the practice of a Jubilee Year in 1300. So, every 25 to 50 years, we celebrate a Jubilee Year, he explained, but this year is an extraordinary Jubilee Year, which has happened only a couple of times in the last century. And in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy we are celebrating not an event, but a theme, and that theme is mercy. "We need to understand the importance of this time of mercy," Fr. Chris told those in attendance at the conference and gave a quick primer on the ABC's of mercy: Ask for God's Mercy; Be merciful to others; And have Complete trust in God's mercy.

Father Chris told the healthcare professionals about the importance of faith in healing others and cited the Scripture passage where the paralytic was lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus was so that he could be healed. When Jesus saw the faith of those caring for the paralytic, he said to him, your sins are forgiven. "Your faith can help heal your patients. Your faith can bring them healing," said Fr. Chris. When people see faith in their caregivers, they can be brought to faith.

Father Chris talked about the importance of prayer in the healthcare profession. You can pray for your patients and there are studies which show that prayer works, he said. We can't measure how it works, but it does work.

We also need to remember that healing is not just about the body. It's not just physical — we are a composite of body and soul woven into one, Fr. Chris said. So, send your patients to the sacraments, he exhorted and provided another example from Scripture. When Jesus healed the deaf man, he touched him but he also spoke words of healing. "You are doing the physical healing, but don't stop there. Go on to the spiritual healing." He then explained that healing requires matter and form — just as in the sacraments. For example, in baptism, the matter is the water and the form is the words spoken. "The sacraments are not just signs, they do not merely signify grace, they cause grace," Fr. Chris explained. "And, when you bring your patients the sacraments, you are doing something, because sacraments are real." If you are deaf, you can be healed, but if you are deaf to the word of God, that is a more dangerous thing, he said. As doctors and nurses, "your words to a patient have the power to open their soul and that's where the healing will come."

9:30 a.m. Fr. Patrice Chocholski, rector of the Shrine of Ars, France, gave a moving talk on forgiveness and healing as lived by the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney. In his talk entitled, "St. John Vianney, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Healing: The Church as Emergency Room," Father Patrice showed how St. John Vianney was not only healed by God's mercy, but that he was cured by it, converted by its touch, and his whole being was carried away by Divine Mercy. Because of his daily commitment to the Divine Mercy, St. John Vianney was able to be an instrument of God's mercy to the many penitents who came to him seeking forgiveness and healing.

Father Patrice said the Holy Father, Pope Francis, echoes St. John Vianney because one of his central messages is that the primary task today is healing the wounds of our world. The Church should be viewed as a field hospital after battle — don't look at whether somebody's blood sugar is too high — tend to the wounds first and tackle the rest later.

Father Patrice assured us that John Vianney continues to pray and intercede for his people, including us today.

Read Fr. Patrice's entire talk: The Cure of Ars and Mercy.

10:50 a.m. Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of Education and Ethicist for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, spoke to the 170 healthcare professionals at the conference about ethical decision surrounding complicated pregnancies. In his talk, he hoped to be able to give a sense of the critical principles that healthcare professionals need in maternal fetal medicine and cautioned that they will see many of these situations being played against the Catholic Church.

In his talk entitled "Complicated Situations in Pregnancy and Early Induction of Labor," he wanted conference attendees to remember some broad overview principles: First, that every pregnancy involves two patients, and good medical care has to take that into consideration; second, it is usually advantageous for a child to grow as long as possible in utero; and lastly, in certain situations, there are risks to the mother's health to continuing the pregnancy too long.

Father Tad cited several directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops "Ethics and Religious Directives" (ERDs) and said there are some non-negotiables in Catholic healthcare. For instance, a Catholic hospital will not agree to end your life or the life of the child in the womb, nor will they assist you to do that, he said.

These things make imminent sense to us but in our society that is not the case, he added.

He spoke in detail about the principle of double effect in healthcare that asks this question, "If I am going to do one action that has two effects — a good effect and a bad effect — may I do that action? Yes or no?" The answer is sometimes yes, he said. This principle is important, he explained, because it touches on not just maternal fetal conflicts, but also pain managements at the end of life.

There are four basic criteria one must look at with the principle of double effect: The action in itself must be good or indifferent; the good effect cannot be obtained through the bad effect because then the end would justify the means (bottom line is it always matters how you get there); there must be a proportion between the good and the bad effect brought about; and the intention of the subject must be directed toward the good effect and merely tolerate the bad effect.

Father Tad then walked through several cases to illustrate the principle of double effect and whether or not the principle was satisfied in each case.

Father Tad said that the kind of subtleties healthcare professionals and ethicists are trying to distinguish are not well understood in our society, so you have groups like the ACLU filing lawsuits. He encouraged healthcare professionals in attendance to learn more on these matters from the National Catholic Center for Bioethics through their one year on-line certification program. Learn more.

1 p.m. "A Paternal Approach to Bring Forth Healing" was the title of Dr. Ron Sobecks' talk.

Dr. Sobecks, an oncologist/hematologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the Marian Press title Divine Mercy, Triumph Over Cancer on God's mercy, human suffering, and cancer said he wanted to focus on father figures in his talk and referenced St. Joseph as a model father figure. We need to see our patients as family, he said, and see the light of each patient as precious, like a father sees each of his children.

He then illustrated how his friend Richard, also a physician, was able to deal with the care of his mother who was suffering from dementia. Richard was now witnessing his mother's suffering — she was once a brilliant woman with deep faith. And he witnessed his father's suffering too – his father was once successful executive and was now the 24 hour caregiver for his wife of 40 years. But Richard was able to see that this suffering and distress throughout her illness would also have periods of consolation and peace, just as in the spiritual life and that it was important to conform to the Divine Will and be obedient to the Lord. If we obey God, he replaces our weakness with His strength, Dr. Sobeck said.

Read our profile on Dr. Sobecks.

1:50 p.m. Marie Romagnano, RN, the founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy and organizer of this conference, presented a moving story about Elise Rodrigues, a 25-year-old woman, who had just graduated from college as a professional interpreter of the deaf and landed her first job. A lover of adventure, Elise and her husband went caving in the fall of 2013. She remembers crawling through mud, deep inside the cave. That night, she had a fever and developed a cough, then bronchitis that never went away.

Marie took us through an intensive case study of Elise's condition — which turned out to be congestive heart failure — and the ups and downs of her medical treatment. At one point, Elise was having some issues with trust and going forward with a medical decision. She was waiting for God to tell her what to do, Marie said. "So I told her, 'Elise, the Lord provides expert medical attention and advice to give you.'"

Marie's point was that going forward with a medical decision does not mean you don't trust the Lord. It means you're trusting in Him to provide the best care that He is providing you with, she told Elise.

Last October, Elise had an automatic defibrillator implanted in her. She went home and was determined to go back to work. When she was released, she gave all of the healthcare staff who cared for her a beautiful handmade card. Nurse Marie gave Elise the best present she could think of, the image of the Divine Mercy. Nurse Marie is also known as "Aunt Marie" since Elise is her niece.

Learn more about Marie's ministry.

Check out our video from the day:

2:30 p.m. Father Tad Pacholczyk from the National Catholic Bioethics Center took the floor again and spoke about brain death, specifically, the moral issues surrounding brain death.

Brain death usually happens after some trauma to the central nervous system, he said. Somebody who is brain dead will have no response to pain, no brainstem reflexes (no gag reflex, no pupil dilation), and no spontaneous respiration (absolute ventilator dependent). You would also have to rule out confounding conditions such as no drug overdose, or no hypothermia, he added. But other conditions can be confused with brain death, so you have to run other possible confirmatory tests such as brain activity tests (EEG) and blood flow tests to the brain (angiogram).

Father Tad said that the Church's position with respect to brain death, if thorough medical testing is carried out, is one of acceptance and openness, provided the decision was based on what John Paul II referred to as a "sound anthropology."

Father Tad then walked conference attendees through a couple of case studies where patients were pronounced brain dead but the testing to determine brain death in these cases was not rigorously applied, he said. In one case, harvest organ helicopters were flying in to retrieve the organs of the patient, but he wasn't even close to brain dead, Fr. Tad said. Maintaining rigorous stringency in procedures and protocols for determining death is of the utmost importance in maintaining the integrity of the medical profession and the future of organ transplantation, he added, and it's important not to blur the distinct lines between brain damage and brain death.

3:45 p.m. Doctor Bryan Thatcher gave a brief talk on fitting Divine Mercy into the daily practice of medicine, asking, how can we fit Divine Mercy into a schedule that's already maxed out? He told the medical professionals that their job is really a vocation and he challenged them. "Are you helping your patients to see a loving God or are you God to them?" Remember, people are often afraid when they come to the hospital or your office, he said. They are wondering, will I die? Will I suffer? Your patients need to see God in you, in the way you act toward them, in the way you smile, in the way you talk to their families. The rays of Divine Mercy must be all consuming and emanating, he added. "You have to let the rays come into your heart and convert your heart and give the same rays to others."

— May 5, 2016— 
8:30 a.m. Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, Professor of Bioethics at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, opened up Day Two of the 12th Annual Divine Mercy Medicine, Bioethics, & Spirituality Conference at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, with a talk on current trends in bioethics.

He began his talk with a framework of the Church's view on the moral life and from that framework he looked at issues surrounding procreation, end of life issues, stem cells and human cloning.

He said the Church teaches that man is made in the imago dei, or in the image of God, and being made in the image of God gives us a certain human dignity: human life is sacred; human beings must never be treated as objects; and we are all equal. In light of Church teaching on human dignity, Fr. Yavarone spoke about contraception and how that mentality of limiting the entire gift of ourselves in the marital act, including one's fertility, can lead to an abortion mentality, especially when an unwanted child is conceived, he warned.

He then spoke about the movement of legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, saying the movement is gaining ground in the United States and has a strong foothold in Europe. He warned that this practice is not only an intrinsic evil because human life is inviolable, but patients' trust in doctors as caregivers will be eroded, it will begin to undercut support for palliative medicine, and will lead to pressure on the sick and the aged to "get out of the way."

He looked briefly at research bioethics issues such as stem cells and human cloning. Regarding embryonic stem cells, he said the problem with this research is that you have to kill an embryo to use it. And cloning raises other issues: it replaces the conjugal act with a technical procedure; there is a "quality control" mentality which violates the dignity of the child; it results in killing "spare" embryos; and it is a sort of biological slavery where the cloner has control over the clone.

11 a.m. Father Patrice Chocholski, rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars, in France, talked about the dynamism of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in patient care. Divine Mercy is dynamic because patients can receive the mercy of God from the caregivers, but also healthcare providers can receive the mercy of God from their patients.

He also related how St. Faustina had experiences of the mercy of God and how this message and devotion may become dynamically fruitful for healing and evangelization.

Read Fr. Patrice's entire talk.

1:45 p.m. Sister Inga Kvassayova, OLM, gave a beautiful talk on how Divine Mercy can change the heart. Originally from Slovakia, Sister Inga worked with older cancer patients and saw how important mercy is in the life of patients. True love or true mercy is when we are willing to enter the chaos of another's life, she said. Healthcare professionals can enter into a patient's life by listening to them and being compassionate to them. But, first and foremost, allow God to touch your heart first, she told conference attendees. "Discover His mercy in your own life, because you can only give what you have. In order to give mercy, you have to receive it first."

2:30 p.m. Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, spoke about preparing patients for death and judgement, and talking to patients who are afraid of dying with the message of Mercy. He referenced an interview of Pope Benedict XVI, where the interviewer asked him, "Why are preachers so deafeningly silent about eschatology (the last things)?" And Benedict answered, "Yes, hardly anyone talks about another, truly better world anymore." Father Seraphim continued to cite this interview where Benedict said we need to meet listeners where they are at, but our task is to open up this horizon to the ultimate. People want concrete answers in the here and now, but these answers are incomplete if they don't convey a sense that I am more than material life and there is a judgement, Fr. Seraphim added.

He told conference attendees they can help their patients with the message of Divine Mercy. Certainly Catholics will find meaning in the message, but we need to find a way to reach non-Catholics with this message too, he said. Just like the tabernacle that God asked Moses to build, and the image of the Sacred Heart that God asked Margaret Mary Alcoque to have painted, and in the same way God asked Faustina to have the image of the Divine Mercy painted because through this image, he will be handing out many graces for souls. And this is the reason the every soul should have access to it, Fr. Seraphim explained.

3:30 p.m. Dr. Sean Tierney, a cardiologist from the Heart Care Center of Illinois, gave a moving witness about his conversion story and how he came to speak about the Lord and Divine Mercy at this healthcare conference. He was raised a Catholic, but because of his relentless medical training and medical practice, faith took a "back seat" for a long time in his life, he said. But, he married a holy woman (who also trained as a doctor), and she took very seriously the call that all married people have – the call to get your spouse to heaven. Dr. Tierney said he is "all in" in terms of his faith now and described how it orients his family life and his medical practice. He prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet with his patients and for his patients. He buys thousands of miraculous medals, has them blessed by the Pope, then gives them out to his patients. He said he has many stories about the power of these medals in the lives of his patients. Always be on the lookout for the divine, he said, and once you are "all in", the Holy Spirit doesn't stop asking things of you.

4:30 p.m. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, talked about tenderness in patient care. "If somebody loves another person tenderly, you know it, you feel it," he said. He recounted some years he spent in Washington, D.C., and there were many homeless people who would come to where he was staying. He decided to spend time with them and get to know them. Sometimes they were looking for specific things, other times they just wanted someone to listen to them, he said. One morning at 5:15 a.m., someone knocked on his door. It was a 45 year-old man, who came to talk to Fr. Kaz. He hadn't slept all night because he just found out he contracted AIDS from a needle. "He just wanted to spend time with me and open his heart. He was afraid." Father Kaz said he doesn't know what kind of healing takes place, but when we get involved in Divine Mercy, something happens. God uncovers wounds. And He gives us the ability to see a bit more, to understand a bit more, he explained.

He told healthcare professionals at the conference that God's word is full of tenderness. He cited Isaiah and the Psalms and the Gospel passages about the woman caught in adultery and the daughter of Jairus. "The whole Gospel is filled with the tenderness of God," he said. "Ask the Lord to help you rediscover God's word again. Ask the Lord to give you the grace to hear his word. The Scriptures are a personal letter He writes to us."

You have so much to do as healthcare professionals, but you have to nourish yourself, he said, and spiritual reading is the way to do that.

5 p.m. The closing talk of the conference, given by Maria Romagnano, RN, examined the clinical evidence of the healing miracle that took place in 2001 through the intercession of the Marian's Founder, Father Stanislaus Papczynski. The miracle was an unexpected recovery of pregnancy between the seventh and eighth week. "The Lord chose this time to authenticate his miracles," Marie said.

Marie took conference attendees through the ultrasounds and test performed on Urszula, the young woman, who was pregnant, during her medical visits in April which showed that the fetus had died. She told the story of the intercessory prayer that was going on for the baby. Upon hearing the news, Urszula's uncle began praying a novena to Fr. Stanislaus, and on Day 8 of the novena, the baby was alive again, Marie told the audience. He believes the miracle can be attributed to Fr. Papczynski because he did not call on any other patron and he was expecting a miracle, Marie explained. A baby boy was born on Oct., 17, 2001. He was premature, but healthy.

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