In message to international symposium in Toronto, Pope Francis reflects on the hope and compassion offered through palliative care

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life, is hosting "Towards a Narrative of Hope: An International Interfaith Symposium on Palliative Care" May 21-23 in Toronto. (Image -

(Updated May 29, 2024 and May 23, 2024)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

[Toronto – CCN} – The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Pontifical Academy for Life, and other key partners recently hosted an international interfaith symposium on palliative care – “Towards a Narrative of Hope” –  held May 21-23, 2024 in Toronto, ON.

Video highlights from CCCB:

According to the symposium program,  the event aimed “to reinvigorate hope within the Church, other faith traditions, and society in the context of end-of-life issues; identify needs and tools that will better respond to current challenges in implementing palliative care more widely; and build a strong network of experts and practitioners who can help with the development and promotion of palliative care resources.”

Message from Pope Francis

In a message to the participants in the symposium, Pope Francis encouraged efforts to advance palliative care for the most vulnerable, saying “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.”

The Holy Father noted this is even more true when facing serious illness or the end of life. “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. In this regard, palliative care, while seeking to alleviate the burden of pain as much as possible, is above all a concrete sign of closeness and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering.”

“I would point out that authentic palliative care is radically different from euthanasia, which is never a source of hope or genuine concern for the sick and dying. 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” (Fratelli Tuttti 18). Indeed euthanasia is often presented falsely as a form of compassion. 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. Palliative care, then, 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.” – Pope Francis message to participants in the Symposium on Palliative Care in Toronto.

Pope Francis concluded his message saying “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.”

Symposium program

Presentations at the international symposium on the first day May 21 included an opening prayer by Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal, who serves as Chair of the CCCB Standing Committee for Family and Life, and a welcome to delegates from CCCB President, Bishop William T. McGrattan of Calgary.

In a message to the International Symposium on Palliative Care released earlier, McGrattan invited participants to “help shape a future where every individual receives the necessary care that honours their dignity and provides hope through holistic palliative care.”

He added: “May our work bear much fruit and, guided by divine wisdom and inspiration, may we work together for a future which offers this compassion as a sure sign of hope.”

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, brought greetings to the symposium, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, presented opening remarks.

The first session of the symposium — “Hope and the Concrete Reality of Palliative Care” — was presented by Dr. Moira McQueen, LL.B, M.Div., Ph.D, the Director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, with closing remarks from Bishop Noël Simard of Valleyfield QC, Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Chairman of the Scientific Board for the symposium.

Other speakers during the three-day event included Dr. Mark Stoltenberg of the Division of Palliative Care and Geriatric Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA;  Dr. Leonie Herx, Specialist Palliative Care Physician for Alberta Health Services, and Dr. Chris Gastmans, Professor of Medical Ethics, Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

The program also included plenary sessions, an interfaith panel featuring Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim speakers, and round-table discussions on promoting a culture of social responsibility in palliative care.

Pope Francis’ Message to the Symposium on Palliative Care May 21-23 in Toronto – ENGLISH   /   FRENCH

CCCB – Media release about Highlights of symposium – ENGLISH  / FRENCH

CCCB – Media release about Symposium May 23, 2024 – ENGLISH  / FRENCH

Pontifical Academy for Life – information about Symposium – LINK

Related: Vatican News item – LINK

Related: Welcome message from CCCB President – LINK

Related: CCCB videos on the purpose of the symposium and the vital role of faith-based organizations and communities in promoting human dignity, compassion, and respect for patients and their families through the illness and dying process — in English by Bishop McGrattan, and in French by Bishop Simard. (Videos are also posted below).



Kiply Lukan Yaworski is the communications coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon –