Day For Life 2022 Fotor 20240610143855

The Church teaches that life is to be nurtured from conception to natural death. In England and Wales, Day for Life is celebrated on the third Sunday of June each year. This year it falls on 16 June. The theme is The Lord is my Shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life.

A debate on end-of-life issues has been in the headlines in recent months with calls for assisted suicide being expressed, especially by celebrities, a view that opposes the Catholic view that life is a gift and that we are called to care for others at the end of their lives.


This year’s message for Day for Life is written by a hospital chaplain, who shares a testimony of compassion, hope and care.

There has been much discussion in the media recently about ‘assisted suicide’, whereby people who feel they are overburdened by suffering will be facilitated in bringing their lives to a premature end by a change in legislation. The Catholic Church opposes this.

As Catholics, along with many people of other faiths and none, we share a different vision about what it is to be fully human, especially when we are suffering and approaching death in the hope of eternal life. People who are coming towards the end of their lives can feel vulnerable, and recent research shows that many consider themselves a burden on their loved ones and wider society. Jesus shows us that life always has dignity and that there is no such thing as a useless life. We are called to defend this gift of life to its natural end and to protect vulnerable citizens from a culture that could pressure them into assisted suicide. We support people with the companionship of a listening ear, appropriate treatment, and the best of care, so that their last days can be times of grace, intimacy and love.

Jesus did not send the sick away. Our Lady remained at the foot of the Cross to the very end as Her Son, Jesus, died. Mary is the model of compassionate presence and prayer whom we are called to imitate. People close to death and their loved ones, often go through similar darkness and pain but can come to a more complete acceptance and find peace in those treasured last moments accompanied by spiritual care.

Bishop John Sherrington (England and Wales), Bishop Kevin Doran (Ireland), and Bishop John Keenan (Scotland)

The prospect of death can evoke a variety of thoughts and feelings among those who are dying and their loved ones. Our faith directs us towards a life that extends beyond death and encourages us to see the end of life as an opportunity for love. Father George reflects on the gift of accompanying the dying in their last days.

The Church reminds us that “despite our best efforts, it is hard to recognise the profound value of human life when we see it in its weakness and fragility.” (Samaritanus Bonus, Letter, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2020) This challenging reality shapes the way that many in society think about those who are suffering towards the end of their lives.

As Christians, we have the perfect model of how to cope with suffering in the example of the Lord Jesus. It is a model that can inspire those who are facing death as well as those who surround them on their last journey.

As disciples of Christ, we need to see our lives as being a continuing response to the call to follow him, including the times when we need to take up the crosses which we have been given to carry. We need to know that the call to follow will mean climbing our own Calvary at some stage.

In my experience as a hospital chaplain, I have come to appreciate that we are never alone on our Calvary: our way of the cross is populated with those who seek to help us share our burden. In the course of our lives, all of us
will probably have the opportunity to help others as they climb towards the summit of their own Calvary, acting as a Veronica or a Simon of Cyrene.

Even if I have only been a bystander on someone’s Calvary as chaplain, I have seen how the dying can so often grow as they struggle upwards, leading the way, and allowing family and friends to learn important lessons in compassionate love as they share in climbing the Calvary of someone for whom they care. I will just recount one story to illustrate this point.

Francis had been admitted into the palliative care ward with a prison officer at the door of his room to keep everyone safe. It seemed that his life was in ruins. He had been serving time as a convicted drug dealer when he received the devastating news that he had terminal cancer and didn’t have long to live.

Although he had been baptised a Catholic, I was warned by the hospital to avoid contact: “Father George don’t go near him. He’s very angry with God, and blames God and the Catholic Church for everything that’s gone wrong in his life. And he’s very dangerous!”

I used to make frequent visits to another patient called Liam in the neighbouring room to Francis, just along the corridor. Every time I passed his room, I would glance in to see Francis sitting upright in his bed, and would be met with an intense glare, his eyes full of angry hatred.

Some time later, I received a call from the hospital at about 3am. I was told that Liam was dying and was asked to go and say some prayers. I dragged myself out of bed and over to the hospital. I spent some time at Liam’s bedside, saying the prayers of commendation, and Liam died.

As I left and passed Francis’s room, he shouted out to me “Priest!” There was no guard. “Has Liam died?” he asked. And so I went into his room, and we began to talk.

We talked about Liam and how peacefully he had died, and we talked about death and life after death. By the time dawn broke, Francis had been reconciled to the Church, and the next two weeks were beautiful.

He made peace with the many people whom he had hurt in his family, he received all the Sacraments and he had people praying around his bedside when the time came to follow Liam peacefully into the hands of the Lord.

His last words to me were “Father George, ask St Francis to pray for me,” and I did so, along with a prayer for Liam, whose own death had opened up for Francis the way towards eternal life. How wonderfully strange that out of the time Francis was given to live with the frightening prospect of death, he was given the capacity to find peace so that he could truly rest in peace.

As a hospital chaplain, my role is especially to remind people that the Lord is always calling us from beyond Calvary: “Come you blessed of my Father…inherit the kingdom prepared for you”.

In our modern culture, we often view life as disposable and assume that everything should be under our control and open to our choice – hence the promotion of assisted suicide. In fact, assisted suicide ultimately involves the denial of an opportunity to live our last days surrounded by compassion and love just as Francis did. It denies us the real dignity that comes from spiritual growth as our bodies diminish.

Caring for people at the end of their lives is a beautiful vocation. It is a vocation lived out by hospital chaplains, doctors, nurses, social carers, family, friends, extraordinary ministers of the eucharist and members of parish groups, such as the SVP. Indeed, we all respond to our calling to care each week at Mass when we pray for the sick. Perhaps if we can renew our vocation to care for others at the end of life, it will help change our culture so that more people come to view the end of life differently and see it as a time for spiritual growth which can be filled with grace and love.

Father George, Hospital Chaplain

Compassion and Hope at the End of Life

There is an urgent need to recover a different perspective on life as a whole from that which is common in modern society. This different perspective can be found in Scripture. It begins with seeing life as a gift as we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and ends with death as the beginning of eternity. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Neglect to care for the sick and vulnerable is seen as a crime in scripture: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up…” (Ezekiel 34:4) while Tobit is noted for faithfully continuing his charitable acts including burying the dead, at real risk to his own life. (Tobit 1:16-18). Jesus did not walk away from the sick – young or old. Mark 5:40-41 tells us that Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter when he “…took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi’, which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’” The elderly are revered in the Bible. Elizabeth and Zechariah bore John the Baptist in old age (Luke 1:18). While elderly Simeon, who had long awaited the Messiah blesses God and proclaims the Nunc Dimittis to the baby Jesus (Luke 2:29). At Simeon’s side is Anna, an 84-year-old widow and prophetess, who praised God and spoke of the child as the one to redeem Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38). Nicodemus, a highly regarded member of the Sanhedrin, was elderly when he visited Jesus by night in order not to be seen. He appeared again at Jesus’ death, bringing a mixture of myrrh, aloes and linen for his burial as he helped lay Jesus in the tomb. (John 19:38-40). The service of the Gospel has nothing to do with age! In this light, all of life matters. Whether long or short, and regardless of its perceived value and contribution as measured by secular society. Life is, in every phase, a meaningful preparation for God’s everlasting embrace. Therefore, each stage has its own beauty and worth, and its own tasks. This life should not be lived in fear of being shortened against one’s will. Confident in God’s goodness and mercy, our faith like the Psalmist, should proclaim that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4). It is important not to lose sight of this approach when we reflect on end-of-life care for the increasing number of people who are either living longer or who are vulnerable in our communities. In spite of huge advances in medicine, technology and wellbeing, our societies are commodifying life itself and prioritising who receives which kinds of treatments and for how long. This is presented as enabling personal choice and control over one’s body, and of helping to reduce pain. But there is no shame in vulnerability and dependency as taught by Jesus to Peter: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18). When the vulnerable, the sick, the disabled and the dying are discarded or not properly cared for, it undermines the wisdom and compassion that we can learn from one another and it violates our relationship with God. The vulnerable and the dying, whether young or old often need palliative or end of life care. These must include medical, spiritual, psychological and human assistance. These do not imply a focus on healing people who are beyond healing but, at the same time, their care should not be diminished as they journey towards their death. “Not being cured” should not be replaced with “not being cared for”. The most vulnerable who may not be able to speak or express their needs require our particular attention as they cry out: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” (Psalm 71:9). They must be accompanied in their suffering and in their dying, rather than their death be provoked or facilitated. Our faith helps us to face death by presenting it in the light of Christ’s resurrection. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Care at the End of Life- Testimonies


“I always wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. I quickly discovered palliative care, focusing on the relief of symptoms for people who are seriously ill or nearing the end of their lives. I have never looked back. What I love about working in this field is the opportunity to see and work with all aspects of a person, together with their family and those close to them – we do not just focus on a disease or condition. 

When people are in need of palliative care, it is a hugely challenging and difficult time for them. But, working with people’s unique strengths and circumstances, we can help people to live well until their death and we can support their family in bereavement.  

God and faith are rarely explicitly mentioned in my work. But I see God in the patients, their families, and in how they respond to these difficult circumstances. As faith is an essential part of me, I bring it to my work. I would not have seen this work as a vocation initially, but I do now.”

“Geoffrey loved his family, his garden and his home. He made a number of requests about dying. First of all, he wanted to die in the hospice. Geoffrey had received care at home from the local district nurses and the hospice community team, but he felt the responsibility of caring for him at the end of his life would be too much for his family, so when asked about his preferred place of death, he said the hospice.  

When he arrived, Geoffrey talked with the team about pain management and how he wanted his death to be peaceful. He was very keen that we knew he was not afraid.  The consultant based at the hospice and the team of doctors and nurses reassured him that his medication would be a joint decision, and they would consistently ask him about dosage and its effectiveness.  

I got to know Geoffrey after he came to our mid-day Mass. He attended in a wheelchair, listened intently to my short homily, and then afterwards asked if I would visit him on the ward. His room was covered with pictures of flowers and insects drawn by his grandchildren. We talked about his family, his life, his beloved garden and, after a few more visits, he requested to be anointed. Shortly before he died, Geoffrey asked if I would celebrate Mass with his family in his hospice room, which I duly did. We used flowers from his garden to decorate the makeshift altar. 

Geoffrey loved the hospice, he called it his “other house”, and he saw us as fellow guests. When he began to die, his last request was that he could breathe “London air as if I am in my garden”, so we kept his window open. As his breathing became irregular and shallower, a few bumble bees wafted in and out of his room. Geoffrey died surrounded by his family, in a room garlanded with flowers and children’s pictures.  

For this article I have changed Geoffrey’s name. His family wanted me to write something, because while they miss him, they want others to know that dying, with support and care, can be peaceful.” 

“I joined the SVP back in 2021 when I heard about the End-of-Life Companionship programme. This project was planned to train SVP members to become End-of-Life Companions. This was an initiative that fitted perfectly with SVP values. 

We invited all SVP members to learn about being with the dying, and the project was an instant success with over 300 members joining the sessions. Most of them claimed they felt reassured and more confident of being with the dying. Some of them also shared their experiences accompanying those at the end of life and the importance of non-judgmental listening, genuine care, and just being there for another person. 

Personally, I accompanied a lady at the end of life. Despite only having brief encounters with her, she mentioned how important it was to see ‘life’ through me. Her statement surprised me, but I realised that I would enter her room with my busy life, and she would ask me about it. For her nothing changed between one day to another, she was in the same hospital room, but she would live new experiences when hearing my stories. I would also learn about the past when hearing about her life – the things she liked to do, her previous jobs, her family, and so on. 

The ministry of accompanying someone else, especially in that vulnerable time, is enriching for both the companion and the dying person. The dying person knows they are not alone; they know they can share what matters the most to them. Companions learn stories that otherwise no one would listen to. Both of them embark on a spiritual journey of reminiscing and reflecting on the beauty of a life’s journey.” 

“It was my privilege, as a hospital chaplain for over 14 years, to be alongside the sick and dying and those close to them. I met many courageous and inspiring people: even now, they live on in my memory and they have surely influenced my own perspective on life and mortality. Without wishing to underestimate the value of time spent with people at any age or stage of life, there is something about the immediacy of an earthly life drawing to a close which brings urgency and intensity to the encounter. Relationships and conversations deepen more swiftly; there is no time, or energy, to waste on idle chat. Often the sense of liminality is palpable and, in that space where the boundaries between heaven and earth begin to blur, God’s presence feels very near. 

Depending on where you live, and how you feel called, there are various opportunities to become involved in the valuable work of end-of-life companionship in both healthcare and community settings. Organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society and Marie Curie Cancer Care offer volunteer programmes. Details can be found at: and”