VIDEO Catholic Ob/Gyns

Vatican Anthem

VIDEO (Dr. Walley)

VIDEO (Irish senator Ronan Mullen)

VIDEO (Dr. Donna Harrison)

Inauguration ceremony





Date: August 31st – September 4th, 2011

Place: Istituto Maria SS Bambina, Rome

Via Paolo VI, No. 21 00120 Città del Vaticano (Close to Saint Peter)
Tel: +39 06.6989.3511; Fax: + 39 06.6989.3540; E-mail:

Language: English

Organisation: MaterCare International

Sponsors: World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC)

Under the Patronage of: The Pontifical Academy for Life


“Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite” (DO WHAT EVER HE TELLS YOU)


Under the protection of; Mary, the Mother, St/Dr Gianna Beretta and Blessed John Paul II

MOTHERHOOD. To appreciate the importance of motherhood in our contemporary world at least four complementary approaches must be envisaged by those in whose professional expertise this responsibility lies.

FIRSTLY, the Catholic Obstetrician must be medically COMPETENT, skilled in all that concerns matters obstetrical and gynecological. This not only involves being informed professionally in all the skills associated in helping mothers medically. Legal, and social aspects are a fundamental part of the doctor’s remit.

SECONDLY, the Catholic doctor must have the CONVICTION that Catholic teaching on ethics, magisterially guided, is not only true, but totally beneficial for the patients requiring medical assistance within the scope of his or her competency.

THIRDLY, this involves the doctor’s appreciation of the nature of society at large and of each particular local COMMUNITY within it. Motherhood is foundational for the flourishing of every society, and for every individual community, which is a constituent part of that society.

FOURTHLY, the doctor must appreciate that motherhood is so fundamental to human existence that profound COMPASSION is necessary. This involves compassion for all mothers and families, believers or not, who suffer to beget and bring up their children.


Day 1 Wednesday August 31st

9:00 am MaterCare International Retreat. Theme “Let Us Pray about Our Lives and Professions”

Directed by Fr. Richard Taylor, MaterCare International’s Spiritual Advisor

1:00 pm Lunch

3:00 pm MaterCare International Board Meeting

All welcome

5:00 pm Registration

6:30 pm “Welcome Reception ”

Dr. Bogdan Chazan (Poland), Chairman, MaterCare International,Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, CEO and Medical Director, Holy Family Hospital Warsaw

Dr. Jose Maria Simon de Castellvi (Spain), President, FIAMC (World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations)

Professor Vincenzo Saraceni (Italy), President, Italian Catholic Medical Association (AMCI)

Professor Robert Walley, Founder and Executive Director, MaterCare International

8:00 pm Dinner (on your own)

9:00 pm “Get Acquainted” gathering on the roof of the Bambina.


Day 2 Thursday September 1st

8:30 am Holy Mass

Celebrant and Homilist

Archbishop/Doctor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life


9:30 am Opening Address

Archbishop/MD Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life

Our Lady and Her Divine Motherhood and the Dignity of all Mothers

10:30 am Break

10:50 am The Witness of the Catholic Obstetrician; A Sign of Contradiction in the World of the Culture of Death

Rev. Richard Taylor (UK), Spiritual Adviser MaterCare International

11:30 am The Sacredness of Conscience, and Legislative attacks on the Right to Practice according to Conscience.

Senator Ronan Mullen (Ireland)

12:10 am Questions and Discussion

1:00 pm Lunch


3:00 pm Faith and Reason. The Obstetrical Implications of Fides et Ratio

Professor Stratford Caldecott (United Kingdom), Oxford University

3:40 pm Evangelisation and Training of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: the Role of the Magisterium.

Rt Rev Msgr Suaudeau MD, Official, Pontifical Academy for Life

4:20 pm Dignitas Personae Explained

Rev Maurizio P. Faggioni MD, Ecclesiastical Assistant FIAMC

5:00 pm Motherhood and the New Feminism

Dr. Leonie Caldecott (United Kingdom)

5:40 pm The Dignity of Motherhood, its Nuptial Significance and Moral Limits to Clinical Intervention

Maria Klepacka-Srodon (United Kingdom and Poland)

6:oo pm Questions and Discussion

6:30pm Close

8:00pm Dinner


Day 3 Friday September 2nd

8:30 am Holy Mass and Homily

H.E. Zygmunt Zimowski, President, Pontifical Council for Health and Pastoral Care.


9:30 am The Current Political Climate and the Rights of Mothers.

Congressman Christopher Smith (N. J. USA)

10:10 am The Hope of Motherhood for Africa

Dr. Henrietta Williams (Nigeria)

10:40 am Break

11:00 am Maternal Mortality and the 5th Millennium Development Goal

Dr. Donna Harrison (USA), Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

11:40 am The New International Abortion First Policy

Dr. Doug Silva (USA), Executive Vice – President, Catholic Family and Human Rights Foundation

12:20 pm Questions and Discussion

1:00 pm Lunch


3:00 pm The International Pro-life Movement

Mrs. Marie Smith (USA)

3:40 pm Demographic Decline and Policies that Promote Families

Nikolas T. Nikas (USA)

3:55 pm Law, Policy & Medical Screening to Protect Mothers from Abortion Coercion

Dorinda C. Bordlee (USA)

4:10 pm Global Contraception – Global devastation

Dr. Rudolf Ehmann (Switzerland)

4:50 pm The Complications of Induced Abortion

Dr. Elvis Seman (Australia), Consultant Obstetrician

5:30 pm The Trouble with IVF

Dr. Bogdan Chazan (Poland), Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Chairman of the Council of MaterCare International, Director of the Holy Family Hospital, Warsaw

6:10 pm Questions and Discussion

6:30 pm Close

8:00 pm Dinner


Day 4 Saturday September 3rd

8:30 am Holy Mass and Homily

Rt Rev Anthony Ireri Mukobo, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo, Kenya


9:30 am Running a Natural Family Planning Unit in a Secular Hospital

Dr Angelo Filardo (Italy)

9:55 am Running a Natural Family Planning Unit in a Catholic Hospital

Dr Luke McLindon (Australia)

10:10 am Training Programmes in Naprotechnology

Dr. Phil Boyle (Ireland)

Naprotechnology Will it Work in Africa?

Dr. Eileen Reilly (Scotland)

10:50 am Break

11:10 am Management of Severe Prematurity and Low Birth Weight

Professor Giuseppe Noia (Italy), Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Gemelli Hospital

11:50 am Perinatal Palliative Care as an alternative to Eugenic Abortion

Dr. Sylvie de Kermadec (France)

12:30 pm Questions and Discussion

1:00 pm Lunch


3:00 pm MaterCare International’s Project Isiolo

Dr. Robert Walley (Canada), Executive Director MaterCare International, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

3:30 pm MaterCare International´s Project Haiti

Mr. Simon Walley (Canada), Project Manager MaterCare international

3:50 pm Experience with Obstetric Fistulae

Dr. Yayoi Takei (Japan), Obstetrician and Gyaecologist

4:10 pm Dr Piotr Klimas (Poland), Resident in Obstetrics and Gynaecology

4:30 pm Use and Abuse of Psychiatric Drugs in Pregnancy

Dr. Barry Duncan/Marcia Barbacki (USA)

5:10 pm Funding Maternal Health Care. A “Maternal Marshall Plan” – A “New Deal” for Mothers.

Round table Discussion

6:00 pm Questions and Discussion

6:30 pm Close

8:00 pm Dinner


Day 5 Sunday September 4th

8:30 am Closing Mass and Homily

Rev. Richard Taylor (United Kingdom), MaterCare International´s Spiritual Adviser



General Papal audience (Angelus, Sunday). Tickets are cost free and available through the organizers.

Social events;

Informal gathering on the roof of the Bambina each evening

Private visit to the Vatican museums (cost free for participants)

Movies to be shown each evening

Love is a Choice – The Life of St/Dr Gianana Beretta Molla

The Demographic

Eggsploitation – The Infertility Industry has a Dirty Secret

Baby Steps Live from the Womb – 16 Stages of Pre-Birth Development

Videos on the development of MaterCare’s Project Isiolo


Bambina is FULL now. An alternative can be:

Registration is €300 per person. Spouse accompanying fee €100.

Please reply with subject line “MaterCare Rome Conference 2011”

Transfers from and to the airport:



To the participants in the International Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynaecologists


18 June 2001

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I warmly welcome your visit on the occasion of the International Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, at which you are reflecting upon your future in the light of the fundamental right to medical training and practice according to conscience. Through you, I greet all those health workers who, as servants and guardians of life, bear unceasing witness throughout the world to the presence of Christ’s Church in this vital field, especially when human life is threatened by the burgeoning culture of death. In particular, I thank professor Gian Luigi Gigli for his kind words on your behalf, and I greet Professor Robert Walley, co-organizer of your Meeting.

2. Christian obstetricians, gynaecologists and obstetric nurses are always called to be servants and guardians of life, for “the Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture” (Evangelium Vitae, 1). But your profession has become still more important and your responsibility still greater “in today’s cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, [and] health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death” (ibid., 89).

Until quite recently, medical ethics in general and Catholic morality were rarely in disagreement. Without problems of conscience, Catholic doctors could generally offer patients all that medical science afforded. But this has now changed profoundly. The availability of contraceptive and abortive drugs, new threats to life in the laws of some countries, some of the uses of prenatal diagnosis, the spread of in vitro fertilization techniques, the consequent production of embryos to deal with sterility, but also their destination to scientific research, the use of embryonic stem cells for the development of tissue for transplants to cure degenerative diseases, and projects of full or partial cloning, already done with animals: all of these have changed the situation radically.

Moreover, conception, pregnancy and childbirth are no longer understood as ways of cooperating with the Creator in the marvelous task of giving life to a new human being. Instead they are often perceived as a burden and even as an ailment to be cured, rather than being seen as a gift from God.

3. Inevitably Catholic obstetricians and gynaecologists and nurses are caught up in these tensions and changes. They are exposed to a social ideology which asks them to be agents of a concept of “reproductive health” based on new reproductive technologies. Yet despite the pressure upon their conscience, many still recognize their responsibility as medical specialists to care for the tiniest and weakest of human beings, and to defend those who have no economic or social power, or public voice of their own.

The conflict between social pressure and the demands of right conscience can lead to the dilemma either of abandoning the medical profession or of compromising one’s convictions. Faced with that tension, we must remember that there is a middle path which opens up before Catholic health workers who are faithful to their conscience. It is the path of conscientious objection, which ought to be respected by all, especially legislators.

4. In striving to serve life, we must work to ensure that the right to professional training and practice that is respectful of conscience in law and in practice is guaranteed. It is clear, as I noted in my Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, that “Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil” (No. 74). Wherever the right to train for and practice medicine with respect for one’s moral convictions is violated, Catholics must earnestly work for redress.

In particular, Catholic universities and hospitals are called to follow the directives of the Church’s Magisterium in every aspect of obstetric and gynaecological practice, including research involving embryos. They should also offer a qualified and internationally recognized teaching network, in order to help doctors who are subject to discrimination or unacceptable pressure on their moral convictions to specialize in obstetrics and gynaecology.

5. It is my fervent hope that at the beginning of this new millennium, all Catholic medical and health care personnel, whether in research or practice, will commit themselves whole-heartedly to the service of human life. I trust that the local Churches will give due attention to the medical profession, promoting the ideal of unambiguous service to the great miracle of life, supporting obstetricians, gynaecologists and health workers who respect the right to life by helping to bring them together for mutual support and the exchange of ideas and experiences.

Entrusting you and your mission as guardians and servants of life to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all who work with you in bearing witness to the Gospel of life .


Rome Doctors’ Retreat Aug 30th 2011

Know Jesus- love him as model healer

By Fr. Richard Taylor

We begin our four day conference with a half day of prayerful reflection on our lives in the service of medicine. We come as believers from round the world to Rome to rededicate ourselves to our calling. We come for Catholic solidarity on the issues that constitute our lives, and determine the lives of others. We come for information and confirmation. This is much more than technical expertise. We are thinking about a way of life that absorbs us totally, and the quality of our involvement is of supreme importance not just for ourselves but for those who put themselves in our hands. The medical doctor today is given generally a place of supreme honour in our society. The Catholic doctor is very often treated with suspicion, and is a sign of contradiction. The reasons are obvious. Society expects that civil law determines human and professional relationships. What the client wants is what the doctor should do. If a procedure is legally licit it is moral. If refused this is called intolerance and prejudice. So let us once again rehearse for ourselves the way Our Lord lived in his society, for he is the model for life, and for him a major part of his life was given to healing.

Our Lord’s Way of Life.

We begin where all life begins. He had a mother. As medical persons you know what a risky affair pregnancy was in those days. The vast majority of births ended in death. We know little about the deaths of the mothers. Realism should remind us that such must have been enormous. Mary’s act of faith expressed in her Fiat must have involved all the dread that every mother knew. The two Infancy Narratives we have only tell us of the suffering either at the time of Jesus’ birth or the danger to the child after he was born. There was no romance; historical realism pervades the narratives. The infancy narratives anticipated his shocking death on Calvary.

But the meaning of the Incarnation is found in the way that God in Christ lived every day in our world. His life as a human being began with an act of faith in a promise. His mother said ‘yes’. His very human identity depended on her fidelity. Even that was questioned at the beginning. Those were the days before DNA. The texts have not shirked the issue. Joseph needed reassurance. The rest of the world never got it. Because of the way things worked out in the later life of Jesus there is a tendency to forget the difficulties at the beginning. Mark and John did not discuss those at all in their Gospels. But the Church has given us four Gospels, and all of them are fundamental and complementary. Obstetricians focus their interest on the beginning of life. These days however they can be distracted by the position of those who think they know who should be born and who should die before parturition. We must not forget that it was so in the Roman Empire- the father decided which child should die and which live. The Jews were against infanticide- but they decided which married couple should divorce and which should not. Ironic that Jesus was totally against divorce- it might have happened in his family! Has anything changed for those who do not believe? The hidden years of Jesus remain hidden. How could he not have known in detail the every day of the ordinary folk with whom he lived? The experience of these years are ex-perienced later in his parables. Ordinary life figured in a recognizable way when he mirrored it back to those who were his hearers. Families break up- the Prodigal Son. Children can be a nuisance, e.g. in their sulking exchanges playing hop-scotch or something like it in the Market Square. People get married and people die- so many references.

Typical Experiences

Life is ultimately about personal relationships. Once we have secured our professions, and our securities, the quality of our life depends on our relationships. That is so obvious that it need not be said. But it is so easily forgotten that once secure we may choose our priorities to avoid or to cultivate our human relationships. The experience of many married couples will verify the truthfulness of this. Work can take over and human relationships can be neglected.

The way Jesus related

Two aspects of the public life of Jesus come immediately to the fore: his teaching and healing. We address his healing first of all. The sick played an enormous part in his life. “All kinds of sickness”- say the Gospels. He must have been very like a medical doctor. Those of us who are not of the medical pprrofession find it hard to imagine what it is like every day, in consulting room or surgery or theatre, to be faced with people who are sick. No other profession has to do that. Unless one talks of preventive medicine many doctors would be out of a job if everyone was healthy. There is no other profession so closely associated with human physical frailty, no other profession that has access physically and psychologically to those who suffer. Those who are not ill do not need the doctor- so said Jesus. But the sick flocked to Jesus- did they just think he was a medicine man? No! They had to believe in far more than medicine if they went to him? So what was entailed? It had something to do with the total meaning of life in the context of absolute values. Is that not going too fast too early? No! The NT texts are more or less unanimous: healing depended on a personal faith in Jesus. This was a belief in his compassion and his power. There was a perception about the nature of his personality. He was somebody who loved, somebody who suffered, somebody who would gladly change things and did- never a botched miracle of healing in his history! So this needs to be pondered in depth. In him they perceived no mere quack but someone who gave life meaning. They did not just pay the bill and walk away. They made an act of faith and ultimately belonged to a community of faith- the meaning of existence is found in this healer who gave no self-advertisement as a healer. He was different because there was no heal-ing without the idea of sin and repentance. A totally other world from the one we live in today.

Human Nature

Jesus dealt with people as personal beings, having a common human nature. People were born, suffered and cried and died. They longed for the same basic things: enough to eat, good health and good relationships, and general human flourishing. They came to him in tears for healing and they went away re-joicing. He often included a major element in his exchange with them which rings strange in our contemporary ears: sin. There was a close connection between sin and bad health in that world. Sin is the name given to alienation from God and from fellow human beings and from oneself. It describes a deportment that is simply malfunctioning contrary to a human being’s true nature. We are made to be good and happy, and to bring goodness and happiness. In the case of Jesus it was not the name given to a class of people. He refused to think of Publicans and Sinners as belonging to the same class, the same category.

There are different ways to look at the activity of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. For the moment we look at his relationship with individuals. And in fact in most of our lives we deal with individuals, beginning with ourselves. Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), who had thought long and hard about essential things against a background of information and formation, spoke of the true happiness of man as: not to know and effect or pursue, but to love, to hope, to joy, to admire, to revere, to adore. Would this reflect the way Jesus lived and related with individuals? Surely yes! He cured sick people, as for example the mother-in-law of Simon. He restored her to a normal activity. She then waited on them. There is probably an overtone that she became a disciple of Jesus in her own small compass.

He healed the man with a withered hand; the text does not describe the reaction of the man, only of those who could not tolerate Jesus declaring the man’s sins forgiven. What were they so worried about? The texts leave us in no doubt: the protesters were missing the signs being given by Jesus that something more important than physical illness was involved. He was evoking the total meaning of life. They were like people listening to the parables and ill disposed to understand them. Is this attitude akin to the opponents of the obstetrician who will save every life and destroy none? There is more to life than the routine solution to a problem so readily envisaged now. The meaning of life itself is involved. And that includes ‘sin’, and the sorrow of misdirected speech about God, or no interest whatever in the fact that there might be a God. Who starts the polemic? Jesus healed the man- for he should have the fullness of life- but it involves a change of heart and mind, and that is so radical it is beyond the merely technical operation of a physical cure. Healing belongs to a realm of reality much greater than any technology or science available to redress some malfunctioning organ. The healing should involve a profound change in the person who is healed. “Sin no more” is hardly a formula that equates to ‘obey the rules’. It is rather an invitation “to get your life right”.

A certain mindset

The Pharisees acknowledged that Jesus worked miracles. What they tried to do was to undermine the source of the miracles- he was demonic. What was at stake? In our terminology: absolute values. It comes down to: who speaks for God? And with what right? Every time Jesus worked a miracle there was an entailment. It had something to do with the right way to live in God’s eyes, and Jesus was that way. Supposing we take the so-called nature miracles, for example, the calming of the storm. The situation was a fairly typical one on the Lake of Galilee. Such storms were not infrequent. In Mark’s version Jesus is asleep on a cushion and the boat is in jeopardy. The disciples wake him up asking if he is not concerned. Ultimately it becomes a disclosure situation: Jesus is not concerned in the way they were concerned. He was able to sleep, safe in His Father’s keeping. They were terrified. He calms the storm and through the incident they begin to find out who he is. The talk is not about the storm but about the person who calmed it. They are given a lesson through the medium of the Old Testament. The creator God who dominated his creation is now at work in Jesus- and it is once again salvific. They are to learn to have more faith, to believe that Jesus is always with them and that they are precious in God’s eyes. They are made aware of who he is. But they needed a mindset to grasp this. They were docile and receptive. They did not take a Pharisaic approach.

In the case of the multiplication of the loaves he had no political intent. He had compassion on the multitude. Feeding the poor would become a major feature of the followers of Jesus. Jesus was not doing it for himself. It was because of who he was that he was able to do it at all. Nor did his disciples later misplace their own role in taking care of people. Both Peter and John, and later Paul and Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles, displayed the same mindset. They were not doing it for themselves. Their healing and saving was derivative from their Master in whose name they acted. Nor did they cease to be realistic in taking every precaution, like earning a living, and looking for friendship on their mission. They lived out the act of faith reasonably, using their genius and their talent in the context of their devotion to Our Lord. He had lived for others, and they were doing exactly the same, empowered by him. Those who felt they could do the same without the mindset were given short shrift- like Simon Magus. There was always opposition- Paul has given a powerful list of such in 2 Cor 11:22ff. To follow Jesus is to look on and live in the world in certain way. It is about selfless love that is directed ultimately to God. But it is lived out among human beings in day to day relationships.

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

It is worth a moment’s reflection to recall the ‘woe’ pronouncements of Jesus. We find these especially at Mt 11: 20ff. It is in the context in which he is being criticised for his style and his message. He is a drunkard and consorts with the wrong sort of people. He had worked many miracles and still he is not being accepted. So he pronounces woes on Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum. There is a prophetical biblical background to these types of utterances- Ezekiel and Jeremiah stand out as the most striking. But here we encounter Jesus seeing himself as failing if not a failure. He simply cannot bring the Old People of God as he encounters them in Galilee to see that a certain repentance is demanded if God’s will for the salvation of all is to be accomplished. They are all walled up in their narrow outlook and Jesus is trying to bring about universal reconciliation. He seems to be getting nowhere. Miracles according to Matthew’s account produce no change in them. Narrow-mindedness and a lack of compassion predominate. So he tells his apostles how it registers with him. It is a time of frustration. Yet he is the God given exemplar of what human flourishing is all about. He wants to create the new people of God. The only place he can turn to now is to concentrate on The Twelve. They are the nucleus of that new people. But there is a long road to travel and a lot of suffering to sustain. In the history of Christianity this frustration has often been replicated. We may think of the twelfth century and St.Francis of Assisi. He lived in a venal world. The Church he should have loved was falling down. So he repaired S.Damiano, and that was a symbol of believers everywhere. Francis had got it right. His pure vision of love and beauty and selflessness, his dependence on providence, and his sheer joy regenerated a fallen Church. No cynicism and no temporising. He thought on the grand scale and even visited the Holy Land and met the Sultan. The health of the Church was not in batting down the hatches but in living in a loving way open for everyone. We may also recall that after the Council of Trent the renewal that began then found an immense response in religious orders being founded and living in a dedicated way the fundamental message of the Gospel. Perseverance in goodness paved the way from laxity to goodness, from frustration to transformation.

This frustration of Jesus could well resonate with Catholic doctors today. Good medicine is good morals. Yet one is often not allowed to practise it. There is often opprobrium from the guild because one is accused of bigotry and prejudice. But the question is about what is true and good. Nobody is asking for privilege. One is just asking for a fair hearing. One cannot impose one’s views. But one cannot act against what one knows to be true. It is as well to be consoled by the pressure being placed on fellow Christians across the wider spectrum. What was intended to be an Equality of Rights Act ends up discriminating against Christians who wear a cross on a lapel, or display a medal in a bus, or refuses to accommodate same-sex couples in one’s hotel. What was intended to engender tolerance has ended up with intolerance. The stakes are very high indeed. This brings us to the question of suffering.


It is ironic that those who are dedicated to the removal of suffering should be exposed to the opprobrium of inflicting useless suffering. “It is cruel not to allow abortions”!

It is here that we encounter the way of Jesus through his example and through his teaching. He shed tears over the suffering of others because he loved them. He was hard on people who imposed suffering and did nothing to alleviate it- he talked about their hardness of heart (Mk 3:5). If we could identify with the suffering of others could we have a hard heart? There are degrees in all of this, of course. Doctors will feel differently about a patient who is not a member of their own family than when their own spouse or offspring are involved. But the more the doctors can imagine in their patients the sufferings of their own family the more compassionate and attentive those doctors will be. I am conscious that it could be all too easy for me to talk when I have spent mostly undisturbed time in my own room and at my own desk, and in good health! I think especially of the priests who spend their life with the suffering and have also to talk about it. That is never easy because we are afraid of being hypocrites. We are never compassionate enough.

The Gospels show the central place of compassion in the life of Jesus! When you did it to the least of my little ones you did it to me. The family note is struck here. Who was the neighbour? The one who had compassion on him (Lk 10:36). Jesus identified with the suffering. But he did not encourage them to revolt against their economic and political oppressors, as has often been suggested. That seems too easy an explanation of what is given as background to the Passion Narratives, and no explanation at all as to why Christianity became a successful world religion. Jesus removed suffering from people and at the same time asked them to accept suffering. He also dared to invite people to take up their cross and follow him (Mk 8:34). If Jesus himself had not asked for such how could any disciple later make such a demand in the name of Jesus and expect to be taken seriously ?

So what were the sufferings to which Jesus referred? He knew about physical suffering. He knew about the death of the young, and family loss and bereavement. He knew about mental anguish. He knew about demonic possession. He knew of social deprivation. He was well aware of the lot of the poor. He knew of suffering in marriage. He knew of what the Law imposed that could not be observed. He knew how hard it was to get justice in the courts. He knew what awaited those who could not pay their debts. He knew about slavery. He knew of the stresses and strains in family life, the selfishness of the young, the unyielding exigencies of the old.

We have seen that conflict was integral to his own life. When a Sam-aritan town refused to receive him, and a would-be disciple asked to follow him, Jesus said that The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head (Lk 9:58). And he knew what it was like to be abandoned by his friends and his nearest and dearest. His own family had thought that he was mad (Mk 3:2l). A chosen disciple betrayed him; a prospective disciple preferred riches to him. How does one keep going in circumstances like that? Why not just give up, walk away and forget all about it? It seems so pointless to go on suffering more and more when nobody seems to care. What was the point of it all? The answer that he gave by example, by what he did and what he said, and the supernatural empowerment to follow him in faith, is the way of salvation according to the New Testament.

Jesus suffered for what was true and what was right. How trite these words sound. Many people have suffered appallingly in the sad and glorious history of humanity. What was the difference in the case of Jesus? The New Testament answer is again unequivocal: it was because of who he was and is. This is at the heart of the mystery that is suffering. This is a way of expressing love in solidarity that knows no limits. This is a mode of identification that far surpasses the mere banality of offering an example for others to follow. Any alternative would seem to be just persuasive theatricals. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (Jn 3:16) would seem to imply that because the nature of things must be respected, because people are free and because they can choose what to do, God must constrain himself within the parameters of what his own creation allows. Incarnation meant appropriating and ident-ifying with the real experience of humanity, just as it is experienced by every human being. And in that context manifesting what every human being could and should be.

But is not all this thinking too abstract to be helpful? Is it not far better to recognise how we react in the face of our own suffering and those of others? Sometimes we can barely look at ravaged human faces. Our very being shrinks at seeing fellow human beings wasted, starved, abused, covered in blood. We are appalled to see someone strike even an animal. But to see them strike a defenceless fellow human being causes us the deepest distress. We can only be blasé about going to war because we never had to be involved in the killing and fighting that is the nature of war. As potential victims our nature cries out in solidarity with the sufferer. We are constituted that way. G.B.Shaw asked, ‘Must Christ be crucified in every age because we have no imagination?’ The best in our humanity surfaces when we see humanity vilified, like a child abused and abandoned. In prison child abusers have to be kept safe from the compensating instincts of very hardened criminals. The deeper our feelings the more we suffer. We must never preclude people from knowing about suffering and thus deny them the possibility of growing up. Our appreciation is helped by Dostoyevsky. The critic Sigurd Fasting describes how Father Zosima sees suffering in The Brothers Karamazov : ‘Through his feeling of guilt before his neighbour, suffering acquires for F.Zosima a dimension that is quite different from the one it possesses for Ivan… his favourite book is the Book of Job...Suffering raises man to the level of God, and so it is not an injustice, but a completion- it does not destroy life’s harmony, but is one of the necessary elements of life. Man goes the way of suffering as Christ did, and thereby realises himself as God-man. Dostoyevsky sees suffering as the ennobler, not the squanderer of that which is valuable in man -and with this vision he re-jects his century’s ideal of progress in all its forms’ (p.345-6). The epigraph to the novel is taken from Jn 12:24, ‘the seed dying and bearing good fruit’. How very like Newman who puts suffering and joy together. It is a kind of dialogue with realism to reveal the defects of the well-heeled optimists of their age.

Some parents never let their children see a dead person, never take them into a hospital. It is no service to them. Poor suffering humanity evokes our compassion and brings our salvation. Unless we are emotionally un-touchable tragedy makes us all cry. It is the great paradox: suffering unites humanity. In tears we recognise each other as human beings. Yet we must never impose unjustified suffering on the innocent to remove suffering…we recognize the responsibilities of doctors and dentists…but to impose doctrinaire suffering… that is one of the dreadful lessons to be drawn from totalitarian regimes. They forgot the individual sufferer in the interest of bettering the lot of ‘humanity’.

James Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time : “I do not want to be senti-mental about suffering- enough is certainly as good as a feast- but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are…..The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand…by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believe that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it …It demands a great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.” [It is of interest to note that the Stoic Epictetus (60-120 AD- that he was a Stoic, cf. –A Classical Dictionary, ed. G.E.Merinden, John Murray, 24th impression, 1932, p.319) writes that while a true Cynic is being flogged he must love (phileô) the men who flog him, as though he were the father or brother of them all (Disc 3.22.54-55), quoted in ABD IV 383 (William Klassen, who thinks E. could well be taken to be a Cynic].

We can also read profitably from Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis : “When the loveliness of the world is shown through a mist of tears, and the life of man is no more than the life of a flower, is there anything that, for sheer simplicity of pathos, wedded and made one with sublimity of tragic effect, can be said to equal or even approach the last act of Christ’s passion? … It is man’s soul that Christ is always looking for. He calls it ‘God’s Kingdom’ and finds it in everyone. Suddenly they (my children) were taken away from me by the law- I flung myself on my knees and bowed my head and wept, and said, ‘The body of a child is the body of the Lord: I am not worthy of either’. That moment seemed to save me”. Wilde felt that riches and pleasure seemed greater tragedies than poverty and sorrow…behind sorrow there is always sorrow, behind sorrow there is always a soul(The Works of Oscar Wilde, Galley Press, London, 1987,p.868.870.881).

Nobody can do our suffering for us and nobody should impose suffering on us. Enough of it comes unsummoned. From its inception in pain to the final breath the pilgrimage of life brings enough suffering with it. What we do with it determines the course of our life. As Catholics we do everything under the sign of the Cross of Jesus in the name of the Holy Trinity. It is a remarkable combination. The glory and thanks are given from a consciousness of dependence. We never forget the sufferings and death of Christ. They are our own if we can identify with his mind and his heart. That seems to be what conversion is.

In the old days it used to be quite normal in our formation in spirituality to give things up. Clearly Lent was the privileged time for this. This was all preparation for giving oneself entirely to God in that lonely act of faith. We were invited to be hard on ourselves. There was even a Latin name for it: agere contra, to take action against our own self-preferring indulgence. Things like custody of the eyes and restraint in eating and drinking were all part of this formative process. Sometimes, of course, people gave up too much too quickly. They were not ready for it. I saw young men not eating enough in the seminary when the food was poor anyway. Then people denied their affections in the interest of controlling their chastity. They became artificial and formal and even rude towards women. The discipline of self-control was the over-riding thing. It is hard to know what the best counsel is in all of this. What is the end of it all? Certainly there is no point in suffering for its own sake. Why fast when the bride-groom is still with us? On the other hand our tendency also is to over-indulge ourselves. By nature we are lazy and self-centred. So there is a balance to be struck. We should go gently with ourselves too. Asceticism is not a game. It should correspond to our experience. And in any case it should be private. Most people should not know how we deprive ourselves. That allows us to be social beings without drawing unnecessary attention to “holiness”. Once again there is enough suffering around without artificially cultivating it. And here I am talking about our private practices. I am not talk-ing about what pertains in the traditions of religious orders. There is however always a danger in practising some form of asceticism without having the faith necessary to sustain it. Some seemed to think that the asceticism would bring the faith. I recall here the young Simone de Beauvoir rubbing herself with a pumice stone in her early teens, her adaptation of the traditional hair shirt. She gave up the faith completely. I do not know if there is cause and effect here, but I have known others follow the same path. They look back in anger now at something that never should have been then. They were not ready for it- if it ever should have been at all. What was probably a special vocation for some was being imposed on all, even on oneself by oneself because of a false understanding of what it was supposed to engender or protect. This is not the Christian way.


Prayer in Ancient Israel was communal and personal. Biblical people prayed for everything. They took it for granted that all life was in God’s hands. The prayers were normally prayers of praise and petition. Praise in the biblical mentality was the equivalent of saying thanks. (The verb ydh occurs in the hiphil (causative) and hithpael (reflexive) forms, and conveys two ranges of meaning. The first is “praise, sing a hymn”; the second is “confess.” Thanksgiving is a form of praise. There is no semitic distinction in the use of the two stems (G.Mayer, TDOT, vol. V, p.428). Indeed there is no special word for thanks in Biblical Hebrew; it is the same word as to give praise.

Jesus was brought up in a devout home and took part in the liturgical life of his people. He knew what people prayed for and he knew how and why they prayed. The miracles that came to be accomplished through personal intervention by him were in fact all in the context of prayer. There was no magic, no breaking of the laws of nature, no gimmicks or cheating, no theatrical performances. People were sick and cured, asking for the cure themselves or other people asking for it in their name. When cured they gave thanks and went on to live a life consonant with fidelity to God’s commandments. Those who witnessed the miracles were amazed and all spread the message and gave praise to God. Healing was seen to have its place in the context of faith expressed and faith acknowledged. There is no hesitation about the way Jesus does things. Before his day the Old Testament prophets like Moses and Elijah and Elishah worked wonders or miracles. But they did so as the faithful servants of God, not as self-serving wonder-workers en-gaged in the pursuit of personal glory or personal remuneration.


It is impossible to think of New Testament miracles without the act of faith. So what is the meaning of this term faith? In what lies its great importance? It is an act of personal commitment, putting trust in the living presence of God, and in his Son Jesus. Above all it is personal It is the act of acknowledging the awesome salvific presence of God. By implication it takes the accent off the self-importance of the person making the act of faith. It is a sign of humility on the part of a person who is in need, and feels that a world of love is there and that this need can be satisfied. It involves gratitude. Its major characteristic is probably humility and all that that implies. It is the one virtue that Jesus actually demanded from those who followed him. Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:25-27). And very interestingly that phrase comes in the context in which Jesus gives thanks, namely praying to the Father and at the same time revealing his own identity. For thanks and supplication are a fundamental part of his prayer. The publican’s prayer was heard because he was humble, admitting his guilt and total dependence on the mercy of God (Lk 18:9-14). There follows a general exhortation to self-abasement.

So faith is trust in God, in Jesus, acknowledging with simplicity of heart that the believer needs everything, and that as believer he or she should be grateful for everything. This is the atmosphere of prayer in the Bible, and especially in the NT. This is the context in which miracles- or wonders- as the Bible calls them, occur.