What does the Church have to say in face of what has been called the “revolution of longevity?” On the initiative of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, some 550 experts and pastoral agents from 60 countries and five continents gathered in Rome this week to reflect and find answers together.
It’s the first time that the Holy See organizes an event of this nature, geared to undertaking a pastoral reflection on a subject that is destined to mark the life of society and of the Church for decades to come. The main theme of the Conference is: ‘The Richness of Many Years of Life’
The meeting will be divided into three thematic sessions: the first will be dedicated to the contrast of the throwaway culture and to further reflection on how, in a different way, depending on the socio-cultural context of provenance, the Church can manifest her merciful face remaining always next to all the elderly.
The second will have families at the center and their responsibility towards grandparents and the elderly: they are called to recognize the gift of life and of the faith transmitted by living a pastoral conversion that puts gratitude at the center. The Church cannot accept that the elderly remain deprived of a family context and, where this is lacking, the Church feels called to become that very family for all those that live in solitude. The elderly have need of a family and families have need of the elderly!
The last session will be dedicated to the elderly’s vocation within the Church. The increase in life expectancy and of the generalized improvement of health conditions have given very many people an extra season of life: free of work commitments, but still in good health. How should these years be lived in a Christian way? Pope Francis has said that it’s a new time and that, in a certain sense, we must invent it. One never retires from the Gospel!
The Irish Bishops’ Conference will be represented at the three-day conference by Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family and two lay members of that Council.
Speaking as he departed for the conference, Bishop Nulty said, “Pope Francis loves the elderly and, from the beginning of his pontificate, on numerous occasions, he has emphasized their indispensable role in dialogue with young people in the transmission of the faith and in the youth’s rediscovery of their own roots. The relationship between the generations is one of his favorite themes and it is highlighted again in this years’ message, just released, for the 54th World Communications Day.
In that message, Pope Francis highlights the value of storytelling. We all know the best storytellers are the elderly, our grandparents, who have lived life’s experience. Faced with the lengthening of the average life and the aging of the population, Pope Francis has asked the elderly to become protagonists and ‘not to pull back the oars into the boat’.
“I see this conference as an endorsement of the key role the elderly play in our Church and in society today. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recognized that critical role when he wrote a special Prayer for Grandparents in 2008. Many Irish dioceses have active branches of the Catholic Grandparents Association, which began in Ireland and has spread throughout the world. In September every year, the Catholic Grandparents Association organizes a pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock.”
Pope Francis will meet conference participants at a special Papal Audience tomorrow.