31 January 2020
The Church’s present and future
The message of the Holy Father in audience with participants in the first international conference on the pastoral care of the elderly, “The Richness of Many Years of Life”
“When we think of the elderly and speak of them, especially in the pastoral dimension, we must learn to modify the verbs a little. There is not only the past, as if for the elderly there exists only the life already behind them and a musty archive. No. The Lord can and wants to write new pages with them, pages of sanctity, of service, of prayer… Today I would like to tell you that the elderly are the present and the tomorrow of the Church as well. Yes, they are also the future of the Church which, together with young people, prophesizes and dreams!” And so Pope Francis addressed the participants of the first international conference on the pastoral care of the elderly, titled “The Richness of Many Years of Life,” whom he received in an audience in the Vatican Apostolic Palace.
The ”richness of many years,” he said, “is the richness of the person, of each individual person that has many years of life behind them, of experience and history. It is a precious treasure that takes form in the journey of life of each man and woman, whatever their origins, wherever they come from, whatever their social or economic condition. Since life is a gift, when life is long it is a privilege, both for oneself and for others. Always.”
“The prophetic witness of the elderly,” he continued, “is realized when the light of the Gospel enters fully into their lives,” and to this end he asked the participants, experts and pastoral workers for the elderly from all over the world, not to spare themselves in proclaiming the Gospel to grandparents and the elderly: “Go out to meet them with a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands. Go out into the streets of your parishes and look for the elderly who live alone. Old age is not a disease, it is a privilege! Loneliness can be a disease, but with love, closeness, and spiritual comfort we can cure it.”
Especially today, according to the Pope, grandparents can be “the indispensable link for educating little ones and young people in the faith,” and for this Pope Francis expressed his hope: “we must get used to including them in our pastoral perspectives and to considering them, in not only an episodic way, but as a vital component in our community. They are not only persons whom we are called to assist and protect in watching over their lives, but they can also be actors in an evangelizing pastoral ministry, privileged witnesses of God’s faithful love.”
Finally, the Pope asked, “that this [conference] not remain an isolated initiative, but may signal the start of a journey of a deepening pastoral response and discernment. We must change our customary pastoral practices so as to know how to respond to the presence of the many elderly persons within families and within the community.”