By Christopher Wells
VATICAN CITY — At an audience of participants in a conference on pastoral care of the elderly, Pope Francis said old-age is “a precious treasure that takes shape in the journey of every man and woman’s life, whatever their origins, background, or economic or social conditions.” He said, “Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others. Always.” He called on the Church to care for the elderly, going to them with “a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands”.
He noted that the world is facing a significant demographic change, with fewer young people and a large increase in the number of elderly. He said that issues facing the elderly – including social disorientation, and societal attitudes of indifference and rejection, are a call to the Church and to society “to serious reflection in order to learn to grasp and appreciate the value of old age”.
The richness of people
Referring to the theme of the conference, Pope Francis said “the richness of many years of life… is the richness of people, of every single person who has many years of life experience and history behind them”.
The Pope welcomed the conference, and asked that it not remain “an isolated initiative”, but might be the start “of a journey of pastoral deepening and discernment”. “We need to change our pastoral habits in order to respond to the presence of so many older people in our families and communities”, he said.
Old age is a blessing
He reminded us that, in the Bible “longevity is a blessing”, and that the elderly, too, have a place in God’s saving plan. “Aware of the irreplaceable role of the elderly”, the Pope said, “the Church becomes a place where generations are called to share God’s loving plan, in a relationship of a mutual exchange of the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. Both old and young, he said, are “the future of the Church”.
In particular, Pope Francis said that grandparents are “the indispensable link in educating children and young people in the faith”. The elderly, he insisted, should be not only the objects of the Church’s care, but also “actors in a pastoral evangelizing ministry, privileged witnesses of God’s faithful love”.
Do not be afraid!
Pope Francis concluded his address with words of encouragement, saying, “Do not be afraid. Take initiatives. Help your Bishops and Dioceses to promote pastoral service to and with the elderly. Do not be discouraged… Go forward!”