The Vatican has announced the twenty-sixth international conference organised by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care this week.
The gathering will have as its theme health, pastoral care, and serving life in the light of the teaching of Pope John Paul II. It is being held in Rome from 24 to 26 November 2011.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said that the conference aims to ensure that the late Pontiff's teaching on "the Gospel of Life", and its translation into pastoral activity "by the Church, all pastoral care operatives, healthcare workers and all men and women of good will to love and serve life, especially when it is weak and suffering".
He expressed the hope that the conference would "celebrate the sacredness of life and the dignity of the person, which must be defended in all circumstances".
This is a clear reference to Pope Bendedict's determination to resist any change to the Catholic Church's current position on reproductive and bio-science issues, which critics say is far too restrictive and causes harm to many it effects - not least in the refusal to countenance contraception, even in situations where AIDS is widespread.
It was Pope John Paul II who established the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, as well as the World Day of the Sick and the Good Samaritan Foundation.
The conference will include "lectures, testimonies and theological-pastoral experiences" from "an interdisciplinary perspective", the archbishop said.
The gathering is due to be attended by Catholics active in the field of healthcare, and by representatives from other churches and religious confessions, including the Rev Stavros Kofinas of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Rev Alfred Krauth of the Lutheran Church. Six ambassadors to the Holy See and forty-two prelates will also be present. In all there will be 685 participants from seventy countries.
The international conference will be preceded by a meeting of bishops with responsibility for health pastoral care.
It will renew the Charter for Healthcare Workers, "which contains a summary of Church doctrine on matters regarding the primary and fundamental value of the life of each human being throughout its trajectory; that is, from conception until natural end".
The Charter, which dates from 1995, is currently being updated to tackle ethical questions that have arisen with the progress of medicine and biology. The new Charter is almost ready and will soon be available in various languages, says the Vatican.