SAN DIEGO, November 12, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - On October 27th, more than two hundred faithful, including doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals, gathered at St. Therese of Carmel parish to celebrate San Diego’s first White Mass.

San Diego’s Coadjutor Bishop, Bishop Cirilo Flores, celebrated the Mass with seven concelebrating priests and a deacon. The White Mass, named for the white medical garments worn by those in the medical community, has been celebrated in the United States since the development of the Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930’s. The White Mass, in addition to honoring those in the healthcare profession, provides Catholic healthcare professionals an opportunity to come together as a medical community and unite their medical vocation with the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

Addressing the healthcare professionals in attendance, Bishop Flores said, “My friends, you have been called in a special way to share in the healing ministry of Jesus. Your vocation is truly a gift to the Church, the diocese, to our community, and to those in need.”

The event was co-sponsored by St. Gianna Physician’s Guild and the San Diego based Culture of Life Family Services, a medical practice devoted to treating the whole person, body and soul, with particular emphasis on advancing the culture of life.

San Diego’s inaugural White Mass kicked off as politicians and Church leaders continue to debate the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. The HHS mandate requires Catholic employers, not covered by the federal government’s narrowly defined conscience exemption, to provide health insurance plans that cover free access to contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization - services that are contrary to Church teaching.

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Bishop Flores said, “Our religious liberty must be protected when we walk out the [church] doors, so that we can live our faith without compromising our religious convictions.”

During Mass, the St. Therese of Carmel choir preformed, for the first time in the United States, the official Italian hymn dedicated to St. Gianna Molla, a modern-day saint canonized by Blessed John Paul II. Following Mass, attendees had the opportunity to venerate a first class relic of Saint Gianna and the stethoscope she used in the care of her patients. St. Gianna, the patron saint of mothers, physicians, and preborn children was an Italian mother, wife, and physician.

St. Gianna described her work as a physician as a “priestly mission” saying, “Just as the priest can touch Jesus, so we doctors touch Jesus in the bodies of our patients, in the poor, the young, the old, and children.”

Thomas McKenna, the director of St. Gianna Physician’s Guild, said that St. Gianna’s description of the medical vocation is at the center of the Guild because, “It goes totally contrary to the secular and humanist idea of what medicine is portrayed as today. This aspect of medicine being a ‘priestly mission,’ involves caring for the soul as well as the body. That is what we are wanting to bring back into society today and that is what the position of the Catholic Church is.”

Dr. Theresa Stigen, a Natural Procreative (NaPro) Technology trained physician from Mystical Rose Obstetrics and Gynecology located in Fallbrook said, “St Gianna has always been kind of a role model for me.” Stigen continued, “To be present at a White Mass, where her relics were present, a first class relic in particular, was really powerful.”

The White Mass also served as an opportunity for those involved in the broader pro-life movement to witness the pro-life efforts being made on the medical front. Roger Lopez, a sidewalk counselor with Helpers of God’s Precious Infants said, “To see all of these physicians come together, that understand and recognize the teachings of the Church, and that will help women, that won’t refer them for abortion, I think that’s fantastic.”

McKenna, with Episcopal advisors Cardinal Raymond Burke and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, developed the St. Gianna Enshrinement program. By offering St. Gianna as a model, the enshrinement program aims to encourage physicians to embrace their Catholic faith, not just as a layperson, but also as a physician. McKenna said, “Many have told me, ‘I practice medicine, I don’t talk faith.’ We say the contrary. You should be a Catholic first as well as a doctor.” Medical offices, hospitals, and parishes around the country have participated in the enshrinement program.

McKenna said, “Our culture places a lot of demands on physicians. These demands, sometimes ones that conflict with our Catholic faith, put Catholic healthcare practitioners in precarious situations. St. Gianna Physician’s Guild and events like this White Mass are here to support our Catholic healthcare practitioners in not only believing in a culture of life, but promoting one through their medical vocations.”