Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Transforming Chaplaincy at global palliative care congress

By Anne Vandenhoeck and Daniel Nuzum


The PAL-LIFE project was initiated by the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2017 as an ‘international advisory working group on diffusion and development of palliative care in the world’. This group of global palliative care experts first gathered in Rome in 2017 and developed a global palliative care strategy for the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV – Pontificia Accademia pro Vita).

On February 28-March 1 the PAV held an international palliative care congress entitled Palliative Care: Everywhere & by Everyone to present the work of the PAL-LIFE project to the public. This international congress was fully subscribed, attracting 400 international participants, and had three core dimensions: identifying, analysing and discussing the value of palliative care; the diffusion and development of palliative care throughout the world; and what religions say about pain and suffering.

In addition the PAV presented a white paper for global palliative care advocacy with recommendations for thirteen stakeholders.

The inclusion, presence and participation of spiritual care, professional spiritual care/chaplaincy organisations and practicing chaplains was significant in this global congress. In addition to the allocated half day to explore spiritual care, the integration of the spiritual dimension of palliative care was evident throughout the congress and was greatly enriched by multifaith perspectives from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

As a global gathering, it naturally follows that several colleagues of Transforming Chaplaincy were present and participated in the congress. Professors Anne Vandenhoeck (Belgium) and Christina Puchalski (USA) were two of the invited speakers and addressed, respectively, the contributions of the chaplain in spiritual care and the integration of spiritual care into palliative care education programmes. Dr. Daniel Nuzum (Ireland) presented two posters: one on multidisciplinary spiritual care provision in a specialist palliative care service, and one on the ‘weaving sacred threads’ model of spiritual care in perinatal palliative care. Rev. George Handzo from the Transforming Chaplaincy advisory committee was also present.

Highlighting the importance of palliative care as the most humane response to the needs of seriously ill and dying children, adults and fragile elders, the congress was a significant moment in global palliative care advocacy and collaboration between major stakeholders. Of particular interest to Transforming Chaplaincy colleagues was the critical role of spiritual care in palliative care. This was eloquently presented by many, most notably by the World Health Organisation as they recognised the role of chaplains as one of the ‘windows’ in the ‘house’ of building strong palliative care programs globally.

Leave a Comment