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Symposium at Notre Dame:  “Human Life is sacred, precious and inviolable”

Symposium at Notre Dame: “Human Life is sacred, precious and inviolable”

JERUSALEM – The third day of preparation for the World Day of the Sick with activities in Jerusalem, one of which was a Symposium held at Notre Dame Center attended  some hundreds of people, on issues about the end of life and acceptance of disabled people.

The day started with a Mass at the Holy Sepulchre celebrated by Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Apostolic Delegate for Jerusalem and Palestine, in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

At mid-day, a meeting took place between representatives of the Pastoral Care of the Sick from the different churches in the Holy Land. It was an opportunity for Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, to talk about the framework of the Pastoral Care for the Sick within the Catholic Church.

The symposium

Practically the whole afternoon was devoted to a symposium on the theme “Human Life is sacred, precious and inviolable – Problems facing the end of life and acceptance of disabled people”, coordinated by Dr Etienne Lepicard and animated by Dr Youssef Zaknoun.

His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, delivered a welcome message, thanking the Holy Father for having chosen the Holy Land to host the World Day of the Sick in this Jubilee of Mercy. He encouraged the participants meditate on the Gospel and on the attitude of Jesus towards the sick: “Christ shows us how strongly we are called to respect life, how strongly each human being has an infinite dignity and is loved by God”  He then referred to the Middle East and the Holy Land, in particular, as a “sick” land, calling on leaders to open their eyes and to work for the common good.  He thanked “all the institutions of the Holy Land that are taking care of the sick and work for the healing of our wounded society.”

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowki spoke on behalf of the Pontifical Delegation present for the occasion. He gave an overview of the teaching of the last three Popes on tend of life issues , acceptance of disabled people and   dignity of human person. He insisted that the Church cannot evolve on these issues, stating that a human being cannot ever be considered  an object, regardless of the stage of his life.

First part : Problems of end of life

The first part was devoted to end of life issues. Dr. Etienne Lepicard presented his research on matters relating to biomedical studies.  While analyzing Israeli legislation on the end of life, he tried to assess the role of Christianity and of Christians under this law and show that the basic positions of the Church were there. He also explained how the Israeli law tried to find “a balance between respect for patient’s autonomy and sanctity of life” (the law prohibits euthanasia, assisted suicide and interruption of medical care).

This was explained by three witnesses: Dr. Dalia Mor, a Jewish general practitioner, recounted the last moments of her father’s life, who was hospitalized at St Louis French Hospital under palliative care. This place has become for her  “the heart in the heart of the heart of the Holy Land”, where “the human being is the most important”. Then Adel Hussein, a Muslim nurse who had worked at this  hospital for over thirty years, underlined the importance of giving people at the end of their life not only medical care, but also affection and comfort, so that their dignity as human beings would be respected.  Finally, Sister Monika Düllmann, Hospital Director, spoke about her mission and underlined how people at the end their life can give us peace in the midst of all the suffering of this land.  St. Louis Hospital is indeed a true place of reconciliation, as Jews, Christians and Muslims work together and are treated in the same way, without any distinction.

Testimony of Archbishop Youhanna Boutros,  Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mossul          

This first part concluded with the vivid testimony of Archbishop  Youhanna Boutros Moshe, Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mosul, who was invited by the Pontifical Council. He read a hymn sung for the dead in the Syriac liturgy in reference to the first chapter of Genesis, which highlighted the centrality of human dignity in Christian anthropology. He described the flight of Christians from Iraq, following the invasion of their villages by the Islamic State. ” ISIS no longer recognizes any dignity of the human being, because for them the value of life is zero, comparable to that of a cow or a pack of cigarettes,” he said. He cited several examples of Iraqi Christians who, despite their distress, do not stop practicing the works of mercy by supporting each in their distress. He concluded by addressing Pope Francis, begging him to have compassion for the Iraqi Christians who “lost everything, except their faith and moral values … we are in great danger, our diocese is at its end, and with it the whole Syrian Church, one of the most ancient Churches of Christianity, “he said.

Second part : Acceptance of disabled people

The second part of the symposium was devoted to the acceptance of disabled people. Fr. Faysal Hijazin spoke about the various forms of disability and outlined the situation in Jordan and Palestine, stating that this percentage of people with disabilities was one of the highest in the world.  He presented various initiatives supporting those with disabilities, in particular, “Our Lady of Peace Center” in Amman, and many other NGO’s, organizations and congregations.  Fr. Hijazin reflected on the word of God and the teaching of the Church, to remind us that respecting the dignity of the person is an obligation for every human being, and the need for everyone to come close to people who suffer the most.

Nihay Jubran, a physician at the French Hospital,  Rweida Jubran from the Italian Hospital and Hanan Marjieh of the English Hospital, all three coming from Nazareth, gave their testimonies on how to accompany the sick or disabled.

Finally, Father David Neuhaus, SJ, spoke about  his experience of visiting prisoners, opening a reflection on another work of mercy.

Patriarch Fouad Twal announced that the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries had set-up four Christian Ethics committees in the Holy Land.

Bishop Marcuzzo, Episcopal Coordinator for World Day of the Sick – Nazareth 2016, thanked the organizers, translators, all the participants,  the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi that welcomed the symposium at Notre Dame Center Auditorium. He invited all participants to attend  the World Day of the Sick celebrations in Nazareth on February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Calixte des Lauriers