Pope says society needs to move “in step” with the elderly

Pope meeting Italian Association of Elderly Workers (Vatican Media)

Pope Francis meets with Italy’s National Association of Elderly Workers and confirms we need the wisdom and experience of the aged to build a world more respectful of the rights of all.

Founded in 1949, Italy’s National Association of Elderly Workers brings together older professionals who still want to contribute to society with their skills and experience. Meeting with representatives of the Association in the Vatican on Monday, to mark the 70th anniversary of their foundation, Pope Francis focused on ageing in terms of two seasons: the season of gift, and the season of dialogue.

The season of gift

The Pope stressed the contribution of the elderly to voluntary activities and caring for others in need. “Volunteering is an experience that is good for both the recipient and the person doing it”, he said. “Commitment to others can counteract the perception of loneliness, improve cognitive performance and increase mental well-being”. Engaging in volunteering promotes what is called “active ageing”, said Pope Francis. It allows the elderly to be protagonists “in the construction of a community of solidarity”.

The Pope identified the biggest challenge for society in the coming years as being that of promoting “the human resources that older people bring to the community with increasing effectiveness”. This means activating solidarity networks, he said, and considering the aged as “bearers of dreams”. The dreams of the elderly are imbued with memory, said Pope Francis, “and therefore fundamental for the journey of the young”.

The season of dialogue

Old age is “the season of dialogue”, said the Pope, because it “presupposes a dialogue and an encounter between the elderly and the young in order to build a society that is more just, more beautiful, more supportive, more Christian”. Old age is a time of grace, he continued, in which the Lord renews His call to us: “He calls us to preserve and pass on our faith, to pray, to intercede, to be close to those in need”.

The elderly, grandparents, “have a unique and special ability to grasp the most problematic situations,” continued Pope Francis, “and their prayer is powerful.” They are entrusted with the great task of transmitting “the experience of life, the history of a family, a community, a people”. “If grandparents do not talk to their grandchildren, there will be no future”, the Pope added.

Building a more inclusive society

“Living old age as the season of gift and the season of dialogue”, said Pope Francis, contradicts the stereotype of the elderly as “sick, disabled, dependent, alone, and afraid”. Instead, it emphasizes “the resources and potential of the elderly”. Too often the elderly are discarded in the name of maintaining a “balanced” economic system, “at the centre of which there is not the human person, but money”, said the Pope.

“We are all called to counter this poisonous culture of waste”, concluded Pope Francis. We are called to build a more welcoming, more human, more inclusive society, “which does not need to discard those who are weak in body and mind”, but that moves “in step” with them.