30 January 2020
Elderly

From vocation to pastoral care

The third and final session of the first international conference “The Richness of Many Years of Life”

Opening the third and last session of the conference on the pastoral care of the elderly, which took place at the Augustinianum, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, archivist and libraian of the Holy Roman Church, spoke at length on the figure of Abraham over the course his address on the vocation of the elderly in the Church: “In the first place, God asks him for a profound realization of faith, and Abraham lives out his faith in the form of hospitality. In this sense the Church,” he said, “needs the elderly to become teachers of hospitality.” Afterward, “Abraham becomes father of many nations by activating the generative force of the transmition of faith. This transmition,” explained the Cardinal, “consists in the intergration of a human being into a story. It is to say to him: you are this, your are part of a past and of a future, you are a co-protagonist in a common history.”

The secretary of our Dicastery, Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, underscored that “the elderly have a special vocation: both as citizens in the midst of their people as well as members of the baptized among the holy and faithful People of God; they have an irreplaceable role in living out and transmitting culture, faith, traditions, and human and religious values.” In light of all this, “the accomplishment of this first international conference for the pastoral care of the elderly is a way for us to pay attention to laypeople in a very important phase of their lives, to protect the value and importance they have within their families, and to bring attention to a phase of human life which requires a great deal of care but which at the same time has an immense potential for evangelization.”

Peter Kevern of Staffordshire University pointed out during the round table discussion that “fragility and dependence fill our earliest days and shadow us throughout out lives; our existence is possible only by the grace of God and the help of other people, every day. Little by little as we age, we may become more fragile—but this makes us more human, not less human. An elderly person is not an alien. They are not alien because we are all fragile, we are all in need, we are all struggling with weakness and vulnerability. When we care for the needs of the elderly, we are not only dedicating ourselves to a ‘work of mercy,’ as they are traditionally called. Nor are we are simply engaging in an act of adoration, caring for those in need who are very close to the heart of our Lord. We are also taking part,” he concluded, “in a prophetic, revolutionary act: finding richness and meaning among those persons whom our society at times considers insignificant.”

Maria Eliza Petrelli, head of the “Pastoral del Adulto Mayor” of the Argentinian episcopal conference, spoke of pastoral ministry: “The pastoral care of families is the place where people in the ‘third age’ of life should belong, since they have formed their own families, and have also been their families’ foundations and pillars.” In light of an organic pastoral ministry as was hoped for in Amoris Laetitia, “we want to promote and encourage a specific pastoral care within families, which consists of the accompaniment, care and integration of people in this third age of life.”

 

The concluding remarks were entrusted to the Undersecretary of our Dicastery, Gabriella Gambino, who “considering the wide variety of the life situations of the elderly in the hundreds of dioceses throughout the whole world, along with the different cultural and social contexts,” concluded by summarizing some guidelines:

- “Regard the great population of the elderly as part of the people of God—they have particular needs which must be taken into account, and for this reason it is necessary that dioceses create offices dedicated to the pastoral care of the elderly;”

- “The pastoral care of the elderly, like every other pastoral ministry, is to be inserted into the new missionary season inaugurated by Pope Francis with Evangelii Gaudium. This means: announcing the presence of Christ to elderly people, since the call to holiness is for everyone, even for grandparents. Not every elderly person has already ecnountered Christ and, even if this encounter has taken place, it is crucial to help them rediscover the signigifance of their baptism in this special phase of life;”

- “Do not establish pastoral ministry to the elderly as an isolated sector, but rather establish it according to a collaborative pastoral approach;”

- “Value the gifts and charisms of elderly people, in charitable activity, in the apostolate, and in the liturgy;”

- “Support families and be present to them when they need to look after elderly grandparents;”

- “Stem the tide of the ‘throw-away’ culture.” Many elderly people, she explained, “ask to be put away in institutions so as not to be a burden,” and, “in some countries they are already proposing euthanasia—explicitly condemned by the Church—for elderly people who are lonely and tired of living.” Therefore, she clarified, “wherever there are people questioning whether their life is still useful or whether anybody cares…well, there is a void that the pastoral ministry of the Church must fill.”

- “Care for the spirituality of the elderly, so that alongside piety and devotional practices, they may be immersed in an authentic, deep spiritual relationship with God. The ageing person is not approaching an end; rather, he must draw near to God and the mystery of eternity.”

Finally, the Undersecretary promised the numerous participants accompaniment and support on the part of the Dicastery: “It is not strategies that are needed, but rather human relationships that grow into networks of collaboration and solidarity between dioceses, parishes, lay communities, associations, and families. What is needed are solid networks with strong roots, not fragmented and fragile initiatives. And sometimes it is from the smallest of seeds,” she concluded, “that the greatest projects are born.”