A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Francis Speaks

A summarised version of the Pope’s address to the First International Congress on the Pastoral Care of the Elderly:

‘The Richness of many years’ ...

... is a richness of people, of each individual person who has many years of life, experience, and history behind them. It is the precious treasure that takes form in the journey of life of each man and woman, whatever their origins, provenance, and economic or social conditions. Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others. Always, it is always this way.

In the twenty-first century, old age has become one of the distinctive features of humanity. The enormous presence of the elderly constitutes a novelty for every social and geographic environment worldwide. In addition, different seasons of life correspond to old age: for many, it is the age in which productive efforts cease, strength declines and the signs of illness, the need for help, and social isolation appear; but for many, it is the beginning of a long period of psycho-physical well-being and freedom from work commitments.

Longevity as a blessing

In the Bible, longevity is a blessing. It confronts us with our fragility, with our mutual dependence, with our family and community ties, and above all with our divine sonship. Granting old age, God the Father gives us time to deepen our knowledge of him, our intimacy with him, to enter ever more into his heart and surrender ourselves to him. This is the time to prepare to deliver our spirit into his hands, definitively, with childlike trust.

But it is also a time of renewed fruitfulness. “They will still bear fruit in old age”, says the Psalmist (92:14). God’s plan of salvation, in fact, is also carried out in the poverty of weak, sterile and powerless bodies. From the barren womb of Sarah and the centenarian body of Abraham, the Chosen People was born (see Romans 4:18-20). From Elizabeth and the old Zechariah, John the Baptist was born. The elderly person, even when weak, can become an instrument of salvation history.

Aware of this irreplaceable role of the elderly, the Church becomes a place where generations are called to share in God’s plan of love, in a relationship of mutual exchange of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This intergenerational sharing obliges us to change our gaze towards older people, to learn to look to the future together with them.

The elderly as the present and future of the Church

When we think of the elderly and talk about them, we must learn to change the tenses of verbs a little. There is not only the past, as if, for the elderly, there were only a life behind them and a mouldy archive. No. The Lord can and wants to write with them also new pages, pages of holiness, of service, of prayer… Today I would like to tell you that the elderly are also the present and the future of the Church. Yes, they are also the future of a Church that, together with the young, prophesies and dreams! This is why it is so important that the elderly and the young speak to each other, it is so important.

Seek out the elderly

The prophecy of the elderly is fulfilled when the light of the Gospel enters fully into their lives; when, like Simeon and Anna, they take Jesus in their arms and announce the revolution of tenderness, the Good News of the one who came into the world to bring the light of the Father. That is why I ask you not to spare yourselves in proclaiming the Gospel to grandparents and elders. Go to them with a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands. Go out into the streets of your parishes and seek out the elderly who live alone. Old age is not an illness, it is a privilege!

God has a large population of grandparents throughout the world. Nowadays, in secularised societies in many countries, current generations of parents do not have, for the most part, the Christian formation and living faith that grandparents can pass on to their grandchildren. They are the indispensable link in educating children and young people in the faith.

Do not be afraid, take initiatives, help your bishops and your dioceses to promote pastoral service to and with older people. Do not be discouraged, keep going!

I too accompany you with my prayer and my blessing. And please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!

Source: Libreria Editrice Vatican, 31 January, 2020

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