Dialogue Knowledge Hub

Faith on the Frontlines: Supporting Mental Health during COVID-19

Online Zoom Application
03:00 pm
02 Feb, 2021
Renz Christian Argao
Rabbi Naomi Kalish
Wiwin Siti Aminah Rohmawati

When the global pandemic began to impact the world in March 2020, the demand for mental health services increased noticeably. Communities around the world have faced immense challenges – unemployment, lockdowns, restricted access to places of worship and the lack of physical contact with family members, friends and colleagues.

Anxiety, fear and stress are normal when we are faced with uncertainty and the unknown. The pandemic has significantly changed our daily lives, our routines, restricted our movements and our innate coping mechanisms. Those challenges trigger mental health conditions or exacerbate existing ones. Yet, unfortunately, many communities have limited access to health services and mental health support, and according to a WHO Survey, the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of 130 countries worldwide.

Around the world, faith actors have been on the frontlines, providing pastoral care and grief counselling and caring for doctors and nurses overwhelmed by the magnitude of the virus.

The upcoming webinar will discuss the role of spirituality in health, as well as the mental health of vulnerable groups. It will also present examples of interfaith initiatives which have united communities and provided support in healing from trauma and addressing the stress of COVID-19.






Renz Christian Argao

Renz Christian Argao is the Coordinator (Chair) of the International Youth Committee of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition, where he also serves as a Member of the World Council and of the International Executive Committee.

Renz is a Registered Psychologist and Psychometrician, and the Director and Chief Psychologist of the Argao Center for Psychological Services. An internationally certified expert in psychotrauma, he is one of the handful of Filipinos who hold the status of Diplomate of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. His work as clinical psychologist includes a decade of experience in clinic administration, case management, psychotherapy, and mental health and psychosocial support services. He has also led and managed a portfolio of projects and programs on psychosocial rehabilitation of communities affected by the armed conflicts in the Central Mindanao region and the communities affected by typhoons and natural disasters. His project portfolio also includes capacity-building programs and psychosocial support services for community volunteers, youth, military, local government units, civil society, and religious leaders. He has worked with various companies, schools, and institutions in the delivery of psychological services to employees and students, development of mental health policies in the workplace, and conduct of mental health programs for various organizations.

In addition to his clinical practice, Renz is a peace activist and is engaged in faith-based diplomacy and development work through Religions for Peace (RfP). He has organized multi-faith actions on youth empowerment, environmental protection, humanitarian response, and diversity and inclusivity. Renz served as speaker and panelist in high level meetings and international conferences in various parts of the World such as Osaka, Tokyo, New York, Krakow, Lindau, Brussels, Yangon, Jakarta, and Phnom Penh. He has also convened interfaith youth peace conferences in the national and international level. During the 10th World Assembly of RfP in Lindau, Germany in 2019, he was elected to lead the International Youth Committee and the Global Interfaith Youth Network. Renz is instrumental in strengthening the interfaith youth networks in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific Region through his capacities as Youth Coordinator of RfP Philippines and Co-Moderator of the Asia-Pacific Interfaith Youth Network. He also serves in the Executive Committee of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace.

Rabbi Naomi Rachel Kalish
Rabbi Naomi Kalish

Rabbi Naomi Kalish is currently a Director of Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She previously worked as the Coordinator of Pastoral Care and Education at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, teaching Clinical Pastoral Education to religiously diverse groups of students. She teaches “Spirituality in Health" at the Columbia University Medical Center and is the incoming Vice Chair of the Pediatric Ethics Committee. Naomi has taught chaplaincy programs and courses at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat and the Academy for Jewish Religion and is a Past President of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains. Naomi has published articles and book chapters in the areas of spiritual care, pediatrics, disaster response, education, and caring for Jewish patients and families. She is a doctoral candidate in Education and Jewish Studies at New York University and is writing a history of the Jewish entry into the field of Chaplaincy Education.

Naomi is the Chair of Sadaqah-Tzedakah Day, a national community service program of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization that cultivates relationship and understanding between Muslim and Jewish women. She is a Founding Board Member of the Hudson County Brotherhood/Sisterhood Association and is the Director of the Hudson Interfaith Teen Initiative in Hudson County, New Jersey, one of the most diverse counties in the United States. Previously Naomi served as the Assistant Director of the Seminarians Interacting Program through the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Naomi is especially interested in exploring how caregiving practices and education can contribute to promoting peace. She identifies with the quotation by psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, MD, “Before analyzing, before classifying, before thinking, before trying to do anything--we should listen.”

Wiwin Siti Aminah Rohmawati

Wiwin Siti Aminah Rohmawati is a Board Member for the Forum for Inter-religious Harmony in Yogyakarta and the former Vice Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Islam (ISAIs) Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University. At ISAIs, she has worked on research and the promotion of tolerant and moderate Islam in Southeast Asia. She has more than 15 years experience in the field of interreligious dialogue. Rohmawati also serves as researcher, trainer, editor, program officer, executive secretary and senior staff member at Interfidei (Institute for Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia), a pioneer of interfaith dialogue in Indonesia.

Recognising the immense stress that Indonesian women are under due to COVID-19, Rohmawati launched a KAICIID-supported project titled “Strengthening the Interfaith Women’s Solidarity Movement to Overcome the COVID-19 Pandemic.” She has used interreligious dialogue to help vulnerable Buddhist, Christian and Muslim women throughout the crisis, setting up an online mental health forum and coordinating mental health seminars.

In 2015, as part of her initiative of KAICIID International Fellows Program (KIFP), she founded the interreligious women’s community titled Srikandi Lintas Iman (SRILI). In 2015 she was also appointed as a Consultant for KAICIID’s MCC (Multi-religious Collaboration for the Common Good) project in Indonesia. In 2017, Wiwin received a KAICIID alumni microgrant for her project “Developing Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation among Women in Yogyakarta." In 2018, she was awarded the Australia Awards Indonesia (AAI) Leadership for Senior Multi-Faith Women Leaders Short Term Award and implemented a project titled, “Intra-Muslim Dialogue among Women in Yogyakarta.” In June 2019 she was invited by The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth of Singapore to be part of Young Leaders’ Programme and International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS). In July 2019, she was also invited to participate in the Professional Fellows on Demand, Religious Freedom and Interfaith Dialogue Exchange Program in America, by the US Department of State and organized by World Learning.  In February 2020, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council's (AIJAC) Rambam Program, based in Melbourne, Australia, invited her to the Third Study Visit to Israel and The Palestinian Authority to honour the memory of Gus Dur.

Currently, she is a Ph.D student in Interfaith Studies at the Graduate School of Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University. Her main interest is women's empowerment, interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. 

Dr. Willard Walden Christopher Ashley

Willard Walden Christopher Ashley, Sr. is the Founder and CEO of Dr. Willard Ashley, Sr., LLC, Montclair, New Jersey. Under this umbrella, Ashley conducts webinars, counseling, consultation, coaching and supervision. Ashley is the founder and senior pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church, Jersey City, New Jersey. Reverend Ashley has served as a pastor for 38 years at four congregations. He is a Board Member, Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School; Board Member/faculty of the New Jersey Institute for the Training of Psychoanalysis; Vice Chair, Bergen County Human Relations Commission; New Jersey State Certified, and a Nationally Certified Psychoanalyst. Ashley has published numerous books and chapters. His latest book is, Rules for 21st Century Radicals, Judson Press, 2021.

July 2012 Ashley was granted tenure and appointed by President Gregg Mast as the first African American Dean of the Seminary in the 200 plus-year history of New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS). July 1, 2020, Ashley retired from NBTS as a Professor of Theology. Memberships include the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, American Association of Marriage Family Therapists, American Group Psychotherapy Association, and Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society.