Catholic health care workers urged to evangelize culture

| October 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, delivers a keynote address Sept. 29 at the Catholic Medical Association convention in St. Paul. He talked about the importance of combining medicine and the new evangelization. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Catholic medical professionals are on the front lines of cultural engagement in a society that too often sidelines religious values, fosters moral relativism and loses sight of the dignity of the human person, said Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

“Your decisions about preserving life have a direct effect not only on the life of a particular patient in a particular instance, but also on the culture — the culture of that person’s family, the culture of your hospital and medical practice, and the culture of our country,” Anderson told more than 600 members of the Catholic Medical Association who met in St. Paul Sept. 27-29.

“The new evangelization is about showing the power of God’s love in places that have abandoned it or forgotten it,” he said.

Medicine and the new evangelization — the church’s efforts to re-energize the Christian faith in an increasingly secular world — was the theme of the conference, which explored the supportive role Catholic health care professionals can play.

“We can talk about the new evangelization all we want in medicine, but until we begin to change the culture, we’re not going to see it happen,” said Dr. John Lane, a radiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who became the association’s president during the conference. “That’s why we spend two full days [at the conference] talking about culture before we ever get to medicine.”

Range of topics

Speakers and participants at the gathering addressed topics ranging from the need to protect conscience rights in medicine and overturn the federal Health and Human Services mandate on contraceptive coverage, to the pastoral agenda of Pope Benedict XVI, the need for Catholic heroes in today’s world, and building a culture of life in Catholic universities.

Father Joseph Johnson, pastor of Holy Family parish in St. Louis Park, spoke at the gathering about the call to holiness as the foundation of Catholic health care.

“I would posit the root problem of what ails health care in America today is the same lack of love that we find in every other area of our society,” Father Johnson said. “The solution, then, is the same as for every other area: We need saints.”

Saints, he said, are people who love God and neighbor “in a heroic manner despite the challenges and temptations,” who follow Jesus’ example of sacrificing for the good of others and who are a “leaven in restoring a compassionate heart to our service of the sick.”

The prescription for becoming a saint is simple but not easy, he said: daily prayer, regular confession and frequent reception of holy Communion.

In addition to the personal call to holiness, Catholics must also bring their faith into the public square — a challenging prospect at a time when public forms of Christian faith are becoming political targets, said Russell Reno, editor of First Things, a journal published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life.

Addressing conference attendees, he said that as society becomes more secular and more people fall into the polling category of “nones” — those who profess no religious affiliation or are anti-religious — Catholics must root themselves in prayer and the mind of the church so they can make good arguments about moral issues facing society.

Making a difference

Such trends speak to the need for Catholic medical professionals to positively influence institutions and policies, said Dr. Robert Tibesar of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and president of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Catholic Physicians Guild.

“The greatest threat to health care today is the increasing secularization of our culture,” Tibesar, a member of St. Mark in St. Paul, told The Catholic Spirit.

He said Catholic health care workers can practice the new evangelization by modeling Christ in their day-to-day encounters with patients and their families and by participating in management and ethical leadership roles in their hospitals and clinics.

“In doing so, we can serve as a voice of reason and Christian compassion in what can otherwise be a cold and utilitarian medical setting,” he said. “Hopefully, over time, this will serve to transform these institutions into places respectful of our human dignity and a moral code based on God’s natural law.”

Catholic physicians guilds, such as the one in the Twin Cities, provide medical professionals with a network of support to learn more about their faith and ethical issues as well as offer a way to provide public witness, Tibesar added.

‘Boot camp’ created

During the conference, the Catholic Medical Association announced a new initiative on the education front: It will sponsor an annual “boot camp” starting next year for medical students that will provide an intensive immersion in the life and teachings of the church as they relate to medicine.

The organization’s general assembly also passed two resolutions of note in St. Paul — one opposing the HHS mandate and another affirming marriage as between a man and a woman.

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