Vatican Symposium shines spotlight on palliative care, wellbeing of elderly

A Vatican symposium on Religion and Medical Ethics is focusing its attention on spirituality in two key areas: palliative care, and the mental health of the elderly.

By Lydia O’Kane (

A two-day symposium looking at Religion and Medical Ethics is currently underway at the Augustinianum Congress Centre in Rome.

The event, which is jointly organized by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) based in Qatar and the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, is focusing on two areas of healthcare: Palliative Care, and the Mental Health of the Elderly.

The symposium, is examining the role that religion plays in providing holistic care in the context of medical ethics.

Mental health and wellbeing of older people.

One of the speakers on Thursday, the second and final day of the gathering, was Bishop Noël Simard, Bishop of Valleyfield, Québec, in Canada, who spoke on the mental health and wellbeing of older people.

Following his presentation, he spoke to Vatican News about the importance of improving the quality of life of elderly patients from a spiritual perspective.

Spiritual accompaniment

“We need to accompany these people”, he said, “and to let them know that they are still useful; they are still part of the community; they are not useless; they are not powerless because we can offer them meaning to their life, meaning to their suffering. He went on to say that, “if we can bring light and hope to the people living with disability and with mental disorders we are creating an environment of comfort, of peace, of love, of compassion.”

Asked about some of the practical ways in which priests, religious and people themselves can accompany older people with health issues, the Bishop said, “it is very important to create a web of relationships, and an environment where people, the elderly are not lonely.”

Many older people with mental health issues, he pointed out, can feel abandoned by society, so one way to help them is to create relationships and have members of the community come and visit them. Older people, Bishop Simard said, need to know that “they are not alone; they are part of a community”.Listen to the interview with Bishop Simard

A symposium with an interfaith perspective

This symposium is looking at palliative care and the mental health of older people from an interfaith perspective, with Catholic, Muslim and Jewish experts taking part. Bishop Simard said it was “very interesting that exactly all religions are facing the same problems, and when we speak of faith communities it’s not only Catholic communities or Jewish, it’s all religions and we have to create ways to speak to each other; to collaborate.” He went on to say that if religions can pool resources it could provide a concrete way of accompanying older people.

Over the past two days, sessions at the symposium have included a focus on Christian, Islamic and medical perspectives on ethics and palliative care, maintaining a bridge of love between people with dementia and their carers, and suicide and life-threatening behaviour among the elderly.

The symposium on Religion and Medical Ethics concludes on 12th December.