Vatican holds first-of-its-kind mental health conference

Catholic mental health ministers from across the globe convened at the Dicastery for Communication for a groundbreaking workshop on mental health and pastoral care, marking the first-ever initiative of its kind organised by the Vatican.

Feb 10, 2024

The conference in the Vatican. (Vatican Media)


VATICAN: Catholic mental health ministers from across the globe convened at the Dicastery for Communication for a groundbreaking workshop on mental health and pastoral care, marking the first-ever initiative of its kind organised by the Vatican.

The workshop featured poignant testimonies, including that of Deacon Ed Shoener, who shared the tragic story of his daughter Katie’s battle with bipolar disorder, leading to her suicide at the age of 29. Prompted by this loss, Deacon Shoener became an advocate for mental health awareness within the Church, founding the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, a non-profit supporting mental health ministries in parishes and dioceses.

The Vatican conference, held on January 30, brought together participants from various corners of the world, including Vatican officials, representatives from the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, and individuals actively involved in mental health ministry in Moldova, India, South Africa, and beyond. Msgr Anthony Ekpo, undersecretary at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, addressed the gathering, highlighting mental health as a priority for the Dicastery. He expressed concern about human rights abuses faced by individuals with mental health challenges and emphasised the link between mental health and climate change.

Msgr Ekpo suggested a countermeasure known as the “ecology of daily life,” drawing inspiration from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. This approach involves paying attention to the environments influencing thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Bishop John Dolan from the US Diocese of Phoenix, emphasised the Church’s role in accompanying individuals with mental health problems, acknowledging the shortage of mental health professionals worldwide. He shared initiatives in his diocese, including educating priests about mental health issues and supporting mental health professionals in finding affordable housing.

Fr Frédéric Fornos discussed the partnership between the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, emphasising the importance of prayer for mental health.

Dr Nunziata Comoretto, from the Pontifical Academy for Life, addressed the conference, stressing the need to care for those struggling with mental health challenges, to prevent them from feeling euthanasia is the only option.

The conference also featured insights from individuals on the frontlines, such as Anastasia Miranova from Caritas Moldova, Edwin Walker from India, and Dr Melese Shula from South Africa.

Sr Isabel Cantón of the Sisters Hospitallers shared her experience in caring for those with mental illnesses, emphasising the challenges faced by her congregation, including fewer priests and sisters and the need to adapt spiritual care in diverse contexts.

Bryana Russell of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries discussed the Sanctuary Course, a study guide aimed at raising awareness about mental health in local churches. The conference concluded with a prayer invoking St John of God, a 16thcentury saint who experienced a mental health breakdown in mid-life.--Vatican News

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