ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO PARTICIPANTS IN THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF
PASTORAL CARE OF THE ELDERLY ON THE THEME
"THE RICHNESS OF THE YEARS"
Friday, January 31, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters,
I cordially welcome you, participants in the first International Congress for the pastoral care of the elderly - "The wealth of the years" -, organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life; and I thank Cardinal Farrell for his kind words.
The "wealth of the years" is the wealth of people, of every single person who has many years of life, experience and history behind them. It is the precious treasure that takes shape in the journey of life for every man and woman, whatever their origins, their origins, their economic or social conditions. Since life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others. Always, always is like this.
In the 21st century, old age has become one of humanity's hallmarks. Within a few decades, the demographic pyramid - which once rested on a large number of children and young people and had few elders at its top - has reversed. If the elders could once populate a small state, today they could populate an entire continent. In this sense, the huge presence of the elderly constitutes a novelty for every social and geographical environment in the world. Furthermore, old age today corresponds to different seasons of life: for many it is the age in which the productive commitment ceases, the strength declines and signs of illness appear, the need for help and social isolation; but for many it is the beginning of a long period of psycho-physical well-being and freedom from working obligations.
In both situations, how can you live these years? What sense to give to this phase of life, which for many can be long? The social disorientation and, in many ways, the indifference and rejection that our societies manifest towards the elderly, call not only the Church, but all of them, to a serious reflection to learn to grasp and appreciate the value of old age. In fact, while, on the one hand, states must face the new demographic situation on the economic level, on the other, civil society needs values and meanings for the third and fourth age. And above all here is the contribution of the ecclesial community.
Therefore I welcomed with interest the initiative of this conference, which focused attention on pastoral care for the elderly and started a reflection on the implications deriving from a conspicuous presence of grandparents in our parishes and in societies. I ask you that this does not remain an isolated initiative, but marks the beginning of a path of pastoral deepening and discernment. We need to change our pastoral habits in order to be able to respond to the presence of many elderly people in families and communities.
Longevity is a blessing in the Bible. It confronts us with our fragility, with mutual dependence, with our family and community ties, and above all with our divine sonship. By granting old age, God the Father gives time to deepen his knowledge of him, intimacy with him, to enter more and more into his heart and abandon himself to him. It is the time to prepare to hand our spirit definitively into his hands. trust of children. But it is also a time of renewed fruitfulness. "In old age they will still bear fruit," says the psalmist (Ps 91: 15). Indeed, God's plan of salvation is also carried out in the poverty of weak, sterile and impotent bodies. From the barren womb of Sarah and from the centenary body of Abraham the chosen people were born (cf. Rom 4: 18-20). John the Baptist was born of Elizabeth and old Zacharias. The elderly, 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 God's plan of love, in a relationship of mutual exchange of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This intergenerational sharing forces us to change our gaze towards the elderly, to learn to look to the future together with them.
When we think of the elderly and talk about them, especially in the pastoral dimension, we must learn to change the tenses of the verbs a little. There is not only the past, as if, for the elderly, there was only one life behind them and a moldy 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, I am also the future of a Church which, together with young people, prophesies and dreams! This is why it is so important that the elderly and young people talk to each other, it is so important.
The prophecy of the elders is fulfilled when the light of the Gospel fully enters their life; when, like Simeon and Anna, they take Jesus in their arms and announce the revolution of tenderness, the Good News of Him who came into the world to bring the light of the Father. This is why I ask you not to spare yourself in announcing the Gospel to grandparents and elders. Go to meet them with a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands. Go out into the streets of your parishes and go looking for the elderly who live alone. Old age is not a disease, it is a privilege! Loneliness can be a disease, but with charity, closeness and spiritual comfort we can heal it.
God has a large number of grandparents everywhere in the world. Nowadays, in the secularized societies of many countries, the current generations of parents do not have, for the most part, that Christian formation and that living faith, which grandparents can instead transmit to their grandchildren. They are the indispensable link for educating children and young people to the faith. We must get used to including them in our pastoral horizons and to consider them, in a non-episodic way, as one of the vital components of our communities. They are not only people we are called to assist and protect to protect their lives, but they can be actors of an evangelizing pastoral ministry, privileged witnesses of God's faithful love.
For this I thank all of you who dedicate your pastoral energies to grandparents and the elderly. I know well that your commitment and your reflection arise from concrete friendship with many elderly people. I hope that what is now the sensitivity of a few becomes the patrimony of every ecclesial community. Do not be afraid, take initiatives, help your Bishops and your Dioceses to promote pastoral service to the elderly and with the elderly. Don't get discouraged, go ahead! The Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life will continue to accompany you in this work.
I too accompany you with my prayer and my blessing. And you, please, don't forget to pray to me. Thank you!
Full Text + Image Source: Vatican.va - UnOfficial Translation -