Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(1) February 2017

Report on FEAMC XIIIth Congress, Porto, Portugal September 29th to October 2nd 2016

Dr Dermot Kearney, CMA(UK) Registrar and Newcastle Branch President

It was a wonderful experience and an honour for me to attend the FEAMC XIIIth Congress in Porto. It was my first time to attend any Catholic Medical Association event with an international flavour. Fifteen countries from throughout Europe were represented with an overall attendance of approximately 150 persons. I was surprised to find that I was the only native English-speaking delegate.

PortoThe congress venue was superb. It was held in the Seminary of Vilar in Porto overlooking the splendidly-sparkling Douro river. The meeting rooms were well-ventilated, well-lit and were just the right size for the numbers attending. The seminary also served as accommodation for most of the delegates at the conference. The en suite bedrooms were excellent value at less than half the cost of nearby hotel rooms. Breakfast was included with no extra charge.

The theme for the congress was “Doctors, The Church and Europe today.” Individual sessions dealt with a wide variety of topics related to the overall theme. Session titles included Migrations in Europe, Young Doctors and Catholic Medical Associations, The Common Good and Healthcare Systems, Doctors in a Multicultural Society, Fragmentation of Medical Practice, The Beginning of Human Life, The Sunset of Human Life, and Medicine and the Poor. In addition, we were honoured to have the prolific Prof Walter Osswald, a native of Porto, deliver the opening address on the first evening of the congress. The title of his presentation was Bioethics in the Light of Christian Faith. He spoke about the formidable and long­standing role of the Church in healthcare and argued that it remains entirely appropriate that Christian thought and ideals should be ever at the forefront of bioethics, a relatively new discipline in the worlds of philosophy and medicine.

Presentations at the Congress were in English or French, depending on the preference of each individual presenter. French remains the official primary language of FEAMC, although many of the delegates, particularly from Northern and Eastern Europe have a greater understanding of English. Each session also had interpreters providing very satisfactory live translations in English, French and Portuguese. In advance, the Catholic Medical Association (UK) had been asked to consider giving presentations on Young Doctors and Medical Students, Physicians in a Multicultural gSociety and The Beginning of Life. Each of these presentations was well received. I was struck by the sincere appreciation and concern that our colleagues in Europe have for the CMA (UK) and there is no doubt that all of the FEAMC officers and all of the individual member associations would be very pleased to have more UK involvement within the Federation of European Catholic Medical Associations, regardless of any recent referendum result.

ChapelIn addition to the excellent and diverse Congress programme outlined above, the Portuguese organisers also planned a marvellous and highly enjoyable social programme. On the first evening there was a lovely social gathering at the Seminary after the evening session had ended. Food and drink was provided free of charge in an informal setting. This provided a great opportunity to meet like-minded Catholic doctors from the other nations represented, helping to ensure a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for the entire Congress. On the second evening, Friday 30th September, we were treated to a marvellous concert by the renowned Polyphonic Choir of Lapa with wonderful solo performers and accompanied by the Orchestra Sine Nombre at the famous Church of Lapa in Porto. The programme for the evening included exquisite interpretations of works by Bach, Schubert and Mozart.

For those who had free time, half day trips were arranged to visit the shrine of Fatima and the historical town of Braga as well as organised tours around the city of Porto. Unfortunately I was not able to take advantage of these opportunities due to Congress commitments as I had to give presentations on each of the three days of the Congress and I was also asked to chair one of the sessions on the third day.

During the General Assembly meeting of the FEAMC, on the second day of the Congress, a new President of FEAMC was appointed. Dr Francois Blin from France, after eight years as President, was succeeded by Dr Vincenzo de Filippis from Bari in Italy. Dr Blin was thanked for his tremendous service as President and Dr de Filippis was congratulated on his appointment. He is looking forward to helping the FEAMC with the many challenges facing Catholic doctors in Europe.

At the final session of the Congress we were honoured to have a closing address on Christ the Physician delivered by His Eminence Manuel Clemente, Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon and President of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference. The support of the Church hierarchy and the respect of the Bishops for the work of the Portuguese Catholic Medical Association was a notable feature at this Congress. I’m sorry to say that I was unable to attend this final address as, at that stage, I was involved with helping to frantically translate the Final Proposals of the Congress into English. These proposals were put forward and approved by the whole assembly immediately prior to the official closing. The document emphasised Europe’s Christian heritage and, recognising current waves of migration into Europe, reminded us that we have, for many centuries, provided refuge and safety for those from other continents in need. While acknowledging that resources are not unlimited and must be used wisely, it was proposed that no person should be denied necessary health and social care on the basis of race, culture, religion, age, sex or financial capacity. The human person in the form of patients in need must remain the focus of any healthcare structure and organisation. Human life must be protected from conception until natural death in all domains of healthcare. The complete document with these noble ideals will be published in its entirety at a later date.

On our final day, Sunday 2nd October, we were graciously received by His Excellency Bishop Antonio Francisco dos Santos of Porto in his residence at the Episcopal Palace before the celebration of Holy Mass in the magnificent Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady. The choir from the Lapa concert were once again present, contributing beautifully to the celebration.

Finally, I would like to add that despite being held in mid-Autumn, the weather in Porto throughout the 4 days of the Congress was glorious, our Portuguese hosts were all extremely friendly and welcoming and overall it was an unforgettable experience. It convinces me more than ever that we truly belong in Europe.