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Conference Examines Roles of Faith and Science in Healing the Bereaved

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The universal experience of grief—and the insights provided by the expanding fields of neuroscience and spirituality—drew almost 250 participants and guests to a bereavement conference at St. John’s University on November 9.

Entitled “The Journey to Healing: We Remember; We Celebrate; We Believe,” the conference explored the ways that individuals, families, and caregivers can better understand and address the pain and other issues that arise from losing a loved one. Compassion and support prevailed among the bereaved, counselors, educators, religious, and researchers participating in the event, which took place in the D’Angelo Center on the Queens, NY, campus.

Noted author, psychologist, and ethicist Sidney Callahan presented the opening session, “Called to Happiness: Where Faith and Psychology Meet.” She described the ways that cultural research and contemporary neuroscience present new approaches to recognizing and dealing with grief and loss. Faith, counseling, and therapy are powerful tools in the journey to healing.

Conference participants selected two workshops from a menu of nine themes, including “balance for the care giver”; “grief strategies for men”; “funeral rites and why we need them”; “the loss of a child as a test of faith”; “going it alone”; and “grief and spirituality.” Experienced counselors and therapists led each session.

Rev. Michael Whalen, C.M., associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s, conducted two workshop sessions exploring the need for ritual as a way to move through loss. He also demonstrated the appropriateness and value of current rituals as well as related topics. In the final general session, therapist and musician Paul Alexander used narrative and song to present his own journey from loss to peace.

The conference closed with Mass offered by the Most Rev. Paul R. Sanchez, D.D., episcopal vicar for Queens in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Relating faith to the journey of healing, Bishop Sanchez urged participants to form true communities offering support, solace, and hope to those who suffer.

The conference was the second such event co-sponsored by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn, Catholic Cemeteries/Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Vincentian Center for Church and Society at St. John’s University.