VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A new hospice center in Oklahoma for the dying not only helps give terminally ill patients the strength to pass through their final moments with dignity but also sends out a message to the faithful that it’s OK to die, an American bishop said.

“Just because you’re dying doesn’t mean there’s no reason to hope; it’s just the opposite. Christ has changed the meaning of death to the entrance into life,” said Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa.

“What makes it valuable is that it sends out messages to the entire diocese that it’s OK to die. We are all going to die,” he said, and people need to “stop pretending” that they won’t.

“We want more and more people to come and actually be with dying people and to feel at home with them and the few relatives they may have and try to show them that what’s awaiting them is heaven, to be in the company of God for all eternity,” the bishop told reporters at the Vatican.

Bishop Slattery, who was in Rome to attend the episcopal ordination of Archbishop Peter B. Wells, a Tulsa native, spoke with journalists March 21 about the construction of the “Porta Caeli House,” a 12-bedroom facility that will care for terminally ill patients in their final moments. The hospice will be built on the grounds of the diocese’s Catholic Charities campus, which also offers medical and dental care, food, clothing, counseling, as well as immigration and legal services.

“What’s unique about our Catholic Charities is that we do not depend on the government or any other agency to do our charity,” he said. “All the charity we do comes from faithful Catholics and some others — individuals who admire our work. But what we do is extend the love of Christ to the poor — primarily the poor — the suffering and the sick.”

The facility originally began 25 years ago as St. Joseph’s Residence, a hospice caring for individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS. While medical advancements reduced the number of those dying from the disease, many continued to come seeking care, especially those suffering from diseases due to drug addictions or other reasons.

The demand prompted the building of a new facility “for anyone who is dying and who has no home or their home is not adequate to take care of them,” Bishop Slattery said.

Residents also will have access to a chapel where Mass is celebrated daily as well as care provided by volunteers from the diocese who offer their time to the poor, the sick and the dying.

Preaching Christ’s love “can’t just be with words. That’s why we’re building the house,” Bishop Slattery said.

“What we’re doing is institutionalizing a way of connecting the Eucharist with every human being. And we start by dealing with the poor and the dying,” he said.