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Pope Francis: Old Age is A Privilege

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One of the favorite themes of Pope Francis, especially in all his visits, is the elderly and their essential importance in the Christian community and in society. His latest message on the topic came on January 31, 2020 at the Vatican.

            The First International Congress on the Pastoral Care of the Elderly took place on January 29-31, 2020, at theAugustinianum Congress Center in Rome. The concrete theme of the congress was “The Richness of Many Years.”The pace-setting congress was organized by the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. Ascending Life, the association and movement of the Elderly in the Church helped prepare the Congress. We are told that about 550 experts and pastoral agents from 60 countries participated in the international encounter.

            On the last day of the congress, January 31, Pope Francis received the participants in audience at the Vatican.  The Pope’s remarks then have been described as “dramatic.” They are part of the love story of the Argentine Pope with the elderly. Let me present its highlights and add other teachings from Pope Francis.


            Old age is “one of the distinctive features of humanity in our days.” The elderly are many worldwide, to the point of having inverted the so-called “demographic pyramid”: once this pyramid rested upon a large number of children and young people and had at the top just a few elderly people. Currently, it is the opposite. Thus, the “enormous presence” of elderly persons “constitutes a novelty for every social and geographic environment worldwide.”

            The elderly have to be taken seriously and responsibly by society and the Church.  As part of humanity, the old persons have an “irreplaceable role.” Pope Francis tells his audience: “God has a large population of grandparents throughout the world.”

            Old age is perceived in different ways: “For many, it is the age in which productive efforts cease, strength declines and the signs of illness, the need for help, and social isolation appear; but for many, it is the beginning of a long period of psycho-physical well-being and freedom from work commitments.” The weak and vulnerable are to be treated – like every human being, young or old - as end and not as means: not to be exploited, ostracized, abandoned, or disposed of by a culture of waste (cf. Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, AL, 51, 128).


            Pope Francis proclaims: “The richness of many years is a richness of people, of each individual person who has many years of life, experience, and history behind them.” The Pope adds: “It is the treasure that takes form in the journey of life of each man and woman, whatever their origins, provenance, and economic and social conditions. Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others.”

            How to live well the final stages of life? The Bible, Pope Francis tells u, helps us answer the question. It considers old age as a blessing for the family and the community. For believers – and for many others adhering to traditional religions and cultures -, old age is a blessing from God and a time given by Him “to deepen our knowledge of Him, our intimacy with Him,” and our surrender to Him. It is a time to prepare for the final lap of the race of life “with childlike trust.” Moreover, old age is “a time of renewal and fruitfulness” – as it was for old Abraham and Sarah, for Zechariah and Elizabeth, for Simeon and Anna. “The elderly person, even when he is weak, can become an instrument of salvation history.”

            An innovative idea: Pope Francis speaks of the important role of the elderly in society and the Christian community today and tomorrow: the elderly not only have a past, but also a present and a future. He invites us all “to change the tenses of the verbs a little.” The seniors “are also the present and the future of the Church.” In the Christian community, the Lord wants the elderly to write with him “new pages of holiness, of service, of prayers…”


            Pope Francis calls all, young and old, “to learn to grasp and to appreciate the value of old age.” States“must learn to face the new demographic situation on the economic level.” Civil society “needs values and meaning for the third and fourth ages.” It has to make a room for the elderly, and hear their cry (cf. AL, 191-192) – and not abandon them: “The gravest sickness of the elderly is their abandonment” (Evangelii Gaudium, EG, 75). 

The Church has to expand the pastoral horizons of the elderly: giving them not only pastoral care, but also providing a “substantial presence in our parishes and societies.” In this aspect, “we need to change our pastoral habits in order to respond to the presence of so many elderly people in families and communities.” The elderly are “actors in a pastoral evangelizing ministry, privileged witnesses of God’s faithful love.”

The Pope said to the participants in the congress – and to all evangelizers: “I ask you not to spare yourselves in proclaiming the Gospel to grandparents and elders. Go to them with a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands. Go out into the streets of your parishes and seek out the elderly who live alone. Old age is not an illness, it is a privilege! Loneliness can be an illness, but with charity, closeness and spiritual comfort we can heal it.”

One idea that is recurring in the writings and addresses of the Holy Father is intergenerational dialogue. In the Message to the Congress, Pope Francis underlines “Intergenerational sharing.” It is really important that the elderly and the young speak to each other, and prophecy and dream together. In this secularized world in which we live, grandparents pass to their grandchildren “Christian formation and living faith.”

Pope Francis says to the elders: “Young people need you, you are essential, so talk to your grandchildren” (Pope Francis, Address, October 17, 2016). All persons have to listen to the elderly: they “bring us memory, the wisdom of experience – and hope” (EG, 108).


Pope Francis closes his message on pastoral care of the elderly and by the elderly encouraging the participants of the congress to continue working with others to widen the positive perception of the elders as active citizens and evangelizers in our world: “I hope that what is today the sensitivity of the few will become the patrimony of every ecclesial community. Do not be afraid, take initiatives, and help your bishops and your dioceses to promote pastoral service to and with older people. Do not be discouraged, keep going!”

As usual, the Holy Father asked the participants to pray for him. I remember what Pope Francis, an elderly person himself, had said on another occasion: “Pray that my old age is tranquil, religious and fruitful - and also joyful.” We all join him in praying for the elderly in our midst – and for one another. And to the Lord: “In my old age, do not abandon me; do not forsake me when my strength is spent” (Ps 71, 9).

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP.