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AJAN attends spirituality conference in Geneva

AJAN Coordinator Paterne Mombe SJ recently attended an international conference in Geneva that aimed to develop recommendations on integrating spirituality into healthcare systems worldwide.

Fr Mombe joined researchers, educators, policymakers, physicians, nurses, chaplains and clergy from more than 20 countries for the gathering convened by the George Washington University Institute of Spirituality and Health (GWISH) and Caritas Internationalis.

The conference challenged the participants, who came from diverse faiths and cultures, to look critically at the current state of healthcare and creatively assess how to better serve patients by integrating spirituality into compassionate and person-centred health care.

“The meeting focused on finding common ground in understanding what spirituality means and putting strategies in place to have spirituality acknowledged as an integral component of healthcare,” said Fr Mombe. “We also explored ways promoting concrete actions and training on spirituality in healthcare.”

The group achieved consensus on an appropriate multi-cultural definition of spirituality as related to health, on proposing standards of care that focus on the whole person and on developing a broad framework for a global strategic plan to improve the quality of spirituality in healthcare.

Fr Mombe was invited to the Geneva meeting after presenting a paper during the Catholic pre-conference in Washington in July 2012 before the International AIDS Conference. He said: “In the paper I presented in Washington, I showed how elements of Ignatian spirituality, such as meditation with scripture readings, have been used in the spiritual accompaniment of people living with HIV to help them cope positively with their status and be reconciled with God, their community of faith and themselves.”

Fr Mombe said that AJAN intends to be “actively involved” in endeavours to integrate spirituality in healthcare, building on the teachings of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit order. “We will use our online training platform, currently under development, to reinforce the capacity of people, especially in healthcare settings, who want to offer spiritual care to people affected by AIDS or any other disease,” he said.

The involvement of AJAN complements that of Caritas Internationalis, which helped to organize the conference. “Caritas Internationalis believes strongly in the dignity of each and every person. We believe that all health care and human development must be holistic and encompass the entire person – body, mind, and spirit,” said Msgr Robert Vitillo, head of the Caritas delegation to the United Nations in Geneva.

“We saw many of our own values reflected in the work of GWISH and were pleased that this consensus conference is inspiring action and initiatives to elevate the quality of health care to benefit all patients, regardless of their faiths, values, cultures, and beliefs.”

Over the last 25 years, people such as Christina Puchalski MD, founder and director of GWISH, have been looking at the role spirituality plays in health care. She said: “There is recognition globally of the importance of honoring the dignity of each human being, responding to all patients’ suffering with compassion as a fundamental professional obligation and recognizing that health is more than merely the absence of disease”.

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