Psychological illnesses are on the increase all over the world and have today overtaken such diseases as cancer and cardiovascular illnesses in terms of sheer numbers. At 13% of the total, they now exceed all other medical conditions, and are frequently described as a „worldwide epidemic“ today.
This development also represents a challenge for the pastoral care of the Church. Accordingly, in November 2018, in Moscow, Catholic and Orthodox experts and Church representatives met together to exchange ideas and experiences and identify and discover ways of better ministering pastorally to the psychologically sick and their families. The conference participants – all top-class specialists – included delegates from Russia, Germany, Greece, the United States, Spain and a number of Eastern European countries.
Among the questions discussed were such things as: „What particular religious kinds on outlook can have a positive or negative influence on psychological sicknesses?“, „What role do the Sacraments of Confession, Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick play in the care of those suffering psychological illnesses?“, „How can the pastoral care of those at risk of suicide best be shaped?“, „What kinds of psychotherapy can be identified as potentially incompatible with the Christian Faith?“, „How can a fruitful collaboration be established between doctors and priests?“, „How is one to distinguish between psychological sickness and phenomena related to spiritual oppression/possession?“ Another important issue discussed was how to provide improved training for priests and seminarians in the sphere of pastoral psychiatry.
As with a number of other initiatives where Catholics and Orthodox are working together in Russia, this conference too was a fruit of the work of a Catholic – Orthodox working group, sponsored by ACN. In the wake of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in February 2016, our charity, which has already been involved for over a quarter of a century in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in Russia, has been seeking new and ever deeper ways of ecumenical collaboration. The working party set up to this end has already organised a number of different gatherings on a variety of themes, in addition to this conference on the psychologically sick – for example on the protection of unborn life and on the pastoral care of addicts.
The long-term objective of all these initiatives is for Catholic and Orthodox Christians to work together to seek solutions for some of the most pressing challenges of the present day, sharing their energies and experience, on the one hand in order to be to work more effectively and give practical help to those in need, and on the other to give powerful witness of brotherly friendship between our two sister Churches. ACN supported this conference in Moscow with a contribution of 14,000 Euros was actively involved in its realization.