'Pain of the Soul'

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. May 6, 2011 - His Excellency Msgr. Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, told nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals that care, recovery, and coping with physical illness remains incomplete if it does not include a spiritual dimension.

"Suffering is a universal experience," Archbishop Zimowski said at the 7th annual "Biotethics and Medicine" conference of Health Care Professionals for Divine Mercy at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass. "It surrounds us and is at the basis of human existence. It is a reality in which we all, sooner or later, find ourselves involved and perhaps overwhelmed. It has been rightly affirmed that suffering is never neutral or indifferent. It tears our hearts and breaks our bodies. Since it accompanies man at every point on earth, suffering demands to be reconsidered."

In this reconsideration, the Vatican's ranking prelate on healthcare, urged doctors and nurses to look for ways in which they can ask patients about their spiritual lives. Dr. Scot Bateman - division chief, pediatric critical care and associate professor of clinical pediatrics, UMass Memorial Medical Center and UMass Medical School - cited studies that show that about six in 10 hospital patients want to be asked about their spiritual lives by doctors and nurses. Only 15 percent say they do not want to be asked.

Archbishop Zimowski, who served for eight years as bishop of Radom, Poland, and before that for 16 years under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered the keynote address on both days of the May 4-5 conference. More than 300 healthcare professionals attended over the two days. Healthcare Professional for Divine Mercy is an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, a congregation based in Stockbridge, Mass.

"Though medicine manages to identify and treat physical suffering, it does not always identify and reach moral suffering, which is the pain of the soul," Archbishop Zimowski said. "The vastness and the many forms of moral suffering are certainly no less in number than the forms of physical illness. Moreover, suffering is as deep as man himself, because it manifests that depth which is proper to man but transcends it. It is one of those areas of man's life which, in a mysterious way, invite man to go beyond himself."

The Archbishop noted what eastern medicine has long observed: A patient's spiritual condition and attitude often determines one's progress in recovering from physical illness. He thanked the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers for their dedication in bringing compassion and a moral dimension of care into hospitals, especially those that may resist the idea or be hesitant.

Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy offers nurses, physicians, and allied healthcare professionals a program of formation that integrates the spirituality and devotional elements of Catholicism (specifically the message of Divine Mercy) into patient care.

Other speakers at the conference included Bishop Robert McManus, STD, bishop of Worcester; Scot Bateman, MD; Marie Romagnano, RN, director, Healthcare Professional for Divine Mercy; Dr. Ronald Sobecks, MD; Dr. John Howland, MD; Dr. Helen Jackson, MD; Dr. Christian Sampson, MD; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC; Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, director, Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy; Fr. Germain Kopaczynski, OFM.

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