(Vatican Radio) In the Christian world, the month of November is traditionally associated with remembering the dead and to mark the occasion this year, the Catholic Bishops Conference in England and Wales has produced a new online resource entitled ‘The Art of Dying Well’.
Featuring lots of videos and articles with practical advice, as well as spiritual counselling, the new site was described by one national daily in the UK as providing “a positive contribution to society’s communal wellbeing.”
Launched on November 1st, it draws on the experience of hospital chaplains, medical staff, bereavement counsellors and individuals who share their insights into the Art of Dying Well.
Bishop John Sherrington is auxiliary of Westminster diocese and head of the bishops conference department on life issues. Philippa Hitchen asked him who this new website is primarily designed for…
Bishop Sherrington says that in England and Wales over the last couple of years, there’s been very intense debate about assisted suicide, so in the context of this “discussion about how to die” the bishops wanted to make a contribution about “how to die well in the light of Church teaching.
He says the site is designed as a resource for Catholic congregations, but it also broadens the tradition of the so-called “Ars moriendi”, to make it accessible to all people, lead them through the emotional and physiological aspects of dying towards the larger spiritual questions.
“Ars moriendi”, or the art of dying is a tradition originating in the Middle Age with manuscripts describing the way in which people should prepare for death. From that centuries old tradition, this new resource takes elements “to give people strength and hope” as they face death, helping them to feel supported spiritually.
Bishop Sherrington describes the website as “a labyrinth” offering over 30 videos and articles, with sections for the terminally ill, for carers and for those facing bereavement. Above all, he says, it encourages people to go and talk to their priests, chaplains, or other spiritual guides. He says that in this year of mercy, the Pope is reminding us that the Church’s role is to be an “agent of mercy” to help people find reconciliation, especially if they have been away from the Church.
Asked about the Vatican’s new directives on the practice of cremation, Bishops Sherrington says it’s important to help people “understand the mystery of death” and “the dignity of human remains”. While some modern practices associated with the scattering of ashes focus on individual experience, he says, it’s important not to lose sight of “the more communal experience of the Church praying for people who’ve died”.
He says the site is just the beginning of a project which the bishops hope will “stimulate a conversation” about death, eternal life and the Christian message of hope.