By Bob Hesse
June 20th, 2014
The grand experiment of separating religion from medicine about 200 years ago has failed! Harold Koenig, M.D. made that statement as a keynote speaker at the 2014 European Conference on Religion, Spirituality and Health (ECRSH) in Malta held 22-24 May. He is considered one of the world’s experts as editor of the renowned bible of compiled research on the subject, the “Handbook of Religion and Health.”
The choice of Malta for the 4th annual ECRSH conference could not have been more appropriate. Malta has millennia of history combining religion and medicine. To personally emphasis this, the President of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, welcomed the attendees at the palace.
Malta occupies a strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean, which for centuries was at the confluence of trade and war. Rugged outcroppings, such as the one on Gozo, provided lookout points during war. Malta’s strategic history is reflected in the native Maltese language, which is a derivative of now defunct Sicilian-Arabic, containing both Arabic and Italian with some French, yet most inhabitants also speak English. Its written form uses the Latin alphabet as a base. They also drive on the left, since Britain was one of 9 countries that occupied it, finally relinquishing control in 1964. In 2004 Malta became the 5th smallest country in the European Union (EU) with a population of about 416,000 yet it’s the world’s 8th most densely populated country.
Malta was first settled about 7,200 years ago. About 5,000 years ago pagan religious Megalithic Temples were built, which have been claimed to be the world’s oldest such freestanding structures. Seven of eleven of these prehistoric monuments are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One example is the Ġgantija Temple, a megalithic complex.
Starting with the Apostle St. Luke who was a physician, Christianity has a long history of combining religion and medicine. And Malta has a long Christian legacy. St. Paul was shipwrecked and later imprisoned there. Approximately 98% of the population is Catholic with the country having about 365 churches on the archipelago islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino, which is one church for every 1,140 residents and one for every day of the year. Some are huge basilicas yet located remotely such as St. John the Baptist on Gozo. Malta is very tolerant of all faiths; the conference held an interfaith prayer service at St. Paul’s Cathedral
In 1113 AD Pope Paschal II founded The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, more commonly referred to as the Hospitaliers of Jerusalem. In 1530 AD the Order arrived in Malta and became known as the Knights of Malta. To this day they are world renowned for serving the sick. Malta’s Medical School is considered the world’s third oldest Medical School. The conference was held on the grounds of Mater Dei Hospital, a first class modern facility newly opened in 2007 to replace St. Luke’s Hospital.
The conference had representatives from around the world yet most were from Europe since ECRSH, as the name implies, is focused on Europe. The principle conference organizer, Dr. Rene Hefti, invited me, as a member of the Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH), to address the conferees at the end of the conference. Most had not heard of ISH and were especially surprised that it is 59 years old. They were also not aware that the Texas Medical Center is the largest in the world and that ISH is located there. In addition to a short education of such things, the main message was that the subject of the conference and others like it around the world, is too important and big to be limited to Europe, Chicago, or even Texas – that was rather difficult as a Texan to say but true. The call was made to consolidate or at least to co-sponsor occasional worldwide conferences with a broader appeal. This would increase attendance and get the attention of the secular press, which generally is not aware of the scientific research confirming that the grand experiment of separating religion and medicine has failed. This proposal was well received. We must globally return to lovingly serving the whole patient, both spiritually and medically.
Bob Hesse is an ordained Catholic deacon and Co-founder and President of Contemplative Network, Inc. (CN) dedicated to interdenominational Christian contemplative prayer. Bob is Vice Chairman and Faculty member, Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH) and Instructor, Rice University. Bob Hesse holds a B.Th. in theology from UST and a B.S. in Chemistry and Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from St. Louis University. He is President/Founder of energy consulting company HEI having traveled to 60 countries often establishing international consortia.