Click here if you don’t see subscription options
A patient is pictured in a file photo chatting with Dominican Sister Catherine Marie at Rosary Hill Home, a Dominican-run facility in Hawthorne, N.Y., that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

(OSV News) -- Palliative care seeks “to alleviate the burden of pain as much as possible,” but above all it is “a concrete sign of closeness and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering,” Pope Francis said.

“At the same time, this kind of care can help patients and their loved ones to accept the vulnerability, frailty and finitude that mark human life in this world,” the pope said.

He made the remarks in a message to the first International Interfaith Symposium on Palliative Care May 21-23 in Toronto, jointly sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the pontifical academy, was attending the symposium, which has as its theme “Towards a Narrative of Hope.”

“Authentic palliative care is radically different from euthanasia, which is never a source of hope or genuine concern for the sick and dying,” the pope said in the message, released late May 21 by the Vatican. “Instead, it is a failure of love, a reflection of a ‘throwaway culture’ in which ‘persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected,’” he added, quoting from his encyclical on human fraternity, “Fratelli Tutti.”

Pope Francis praised the symposium’s theme as “both timely and necessary.”

“Nowadays, in witnessing the tragic effects of war, violence and injustice of various kinds, it is all too easy to give in to grief and even to despair,” he said. “Yet as members of the human family and especially as believers, we are called to accompany, with love and compassion, those who struggle and have difficulty finding reasons for hope (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, hope is what gives us strength in the face of the questions raised by life’s challenges, difficulties and anxieties.”

“This is even more true when facing a serious illness or the end of life,” he continued. “All who experience the uncertainties so often brought about by sickness and death need the witness of hope provided by those who care for them and who remain at their side.”

Euthanasia is often presented falsely as a form of compassion, Pope Francis said. “Yet ‘compassion’, a word that means ‘suffering with,’ does not involve the intentional ending of a life, but rather the willingness to share the burdens of those facing the end stages of our earthly pilgrimage.”

Canada allows “medical assistance in dying,” or MAID, a law enacted in 2016. It exempts from criminal charges doctors and nurse practitioners who either directly administer or prescribe medication to cause a person’s death at their own request. The law, originally limited to those with terminal illness, includes protocols for ensuring a patient requesting MAID is fully informed and freely consents. A proposed expansion of that law would include those whose sole condition is mental illness, which was delayed until 2027 amid international criticism.

Palliative care, Pope Francis said, “is a genuine form of compassion, for it responds to suffering, whether physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual, by affirming the fundamental and inviolable dignity of every person, especially the dying, and helping them to accept the inevitable moment of passage from this life to eternal life.”

Religious convictions, he said, “offer a more profound understanding of illness, suffering and death, seeing these as part of the mystery of divine providence and, for the Christian tradition, a means towards sanctification.”

“At the same time, the compassionate actions and respect shown by dedicated medical personnel and caregivers have often created the possibility for those at the end of their lives to find spiritual comfort, hope and reconciliation with God, family members and friends,” the pope said. “Indeed, your service is important -- I would even say essential -- in helping the sick and dying realize that they are not isolated or alone, that their lives are not a burden, but that they always remain inherently valuable in the eyes of God (cf. Psalm 116:15) and united to us by the bonds of communion.”

Pope Francis praised “efforts to advance palliative care for the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.”

In his message, he conveyed best wishes to everyone taking part in the International Interfaith Symposium on Palliative Care, thanking the presidents of the two sponsoring organizations, Archbishop Paglia and Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary, Alberta, who is head of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“May your discussions and deliberations in these days help you to persevere in love, give hope to those at the end of life and further the building of a more just and fraternal society. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the divine blessings of wisdom, strength and peace,” the pope said.

The latest from america

I am always going to be let down by humans, but never by the One who is fully human and fully divine.
Joe Hoover, S.J.June 13, 2024
Sea-Watch crew members help a migrant boarding a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea on July 23, 2022. African bishops are expressing pain at seeing young people migrate to lives of uncertainty. (CNS photo/Nora Bording, Sea-Watch handout via Reuters)
Both the United States and the European Union are experiencing a period when double-digit percentages of foreign-born people have been able to achieve legal residency.
Kevin ClarkeJune 13, 2024
The Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity released a study document on the role of the bishop of Rome and how that role is viewed by other Christian churches.
Gerard O’ConnellJune 13, 2024
Pope Francis is scheduled to sit down with U.S. President Joe Biden and eight other heads of state in a series of private bilateral meetings during the Group of Seven on Friday, June 14.