The first national Catholic Medical Association Conference was held at St Joseph’s Conference and Retreat Centre, Baulkham Hills from Friday 10 November to Sunday 12 November 2023. While there was a past national gathering of Catholic doctors, this is the first National Conference since the Catholic Medical Association was approved by the Australian bishops as a national peak body for Catholic healthcare professionals, replacing the former Guild of St Luke, which was a state-based entity.
The primary objective of the conference was to act as a forum for Catholic Healthcare professionals to gather together for prayer, input and mutual support. We have a common goal of integrating our professional practice in the care of the sick and the dying with our call to minister the Good News of the compassion of Jesus for our patients. In other words, our professional practice in the care of the sick and the dying represents our faith in action as missionary disciples of Jesus. This is what it means to have a vocation in our professional care of our patients.
We had over 80 participants at the conference from all states except Western Australia. It was also gratifying to welcome participants from New Zealand and Portugal. The Conference White Mass (the Red Mass is for lawyers, the White Mass is for healthcare professionals) was concelebrated by Archbishop Julian Porteus, Archbishop of Hobart and Bishop Richard Umbers, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney together with Fr Paschal Corby OFM Conv from the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Fr Anthony Bernard from the Archdiocese of Sydney. The White Mass was preceded by a time of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, all present received a blessing of hands for their ministry to the sick and the dying as healthcare professionals during the Mass.
On the Friday evening, we had a talk by Fr Paschal on the theme of the conference, which is ‘That they may have life.’ After this deep reflection on what it is to have life, life to the full, we had on Saturday an exploration of the pressing issues of conscientious objection, transhumanism, transgendering our youth, and Voluntary Assisted Dying. Our keynote address by Professor Joanna Howe at the conference dinner was both powerful and enlightening. On Sunday, we opened with the morning prayer of the Church, followed by a presentation by Shawn van der Linden, a Catholic psychologist. Deacon Dr Michael Tan then presented on the spiritual life of the Catholic Healthcare professional, before hearing testimonies from three doctors regarding the relationship between their faith and their professional life.
The conference was a great success. The leadership of the Catholic Medical Association had previously met by Zoom during the pandemic, so it was great to meet in person. New friendships were made, and old friendships renewed. The venue was also a great venue for the conference in that we had a chapel, meeting rooms, accommodation, catering and beautiful grounds all within the same venue. We are all looking forward to meeting again in 2025 in Melbourne.
Deacon Michael Tan is Deacon Assisting at St John the Evangelist Parish, Riverstone.