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World Day Of The Elderly

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The United Nations (UN) has declared a good number of world days throughout the year. Lately, we have celebrated: World Earth Day on April 22, 2021, and World Refugee Day on June 20, 2021. The Catholic Church, for its part, also celebrates a few world days: the World Day of Peace instituted by St. Paul VI in 1967, the World Day of Youth established by St. John Paul II in 1984, and the World Day of the Poor, by Pope Francis in 2017.

This year of 2021, Pope Francis inaugurates a new world day, the First World Day of Grandparents and the Elderlyon the fourth Sunday of July that this year falls on July 25. Why will it be celebrated from now on the fourth Sunday of July? Mainly because this Sunday is the closest to July 26, the day the Church celebrates the memorial or feast of the parents of Mother Mary, St. Joachim and St. Anne, who are the Patrons of the Elderly. This year’s celebration, moreover, is connected with the Year of Amoris Laetititia, the apostolic exhortation on the family issued by Pope Francis five years ago.

What is the purpose of this new World day?  The purpose is, Pope Francis says, to honor the elderly and to underline their importance to the family, society and the Church, and to call the attention of all to the needs and attributes of the elderly. The theme of the year of the elderly is this: “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). According to the Pope, this especial year wishes to manifest the closeness of the Lord and of the Church to the elderly, particularly in this difficult time of the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, “I am with you always” is “a promise of closeness and hope that the young and the old may mutually experience.”


In some cultures, the elderly are generally treated with a special respect and reverence. In our post-humanist world, particularly in the more developed societies, the elderly are frequently marginalized and often considered useless and burdensome.           

We Christians with other believers in God have a commandment, which is a natural expression of our human nature and identity, of natural law”:  the fourth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Dt 5:16; Ex 20. 12; Mk 7:10).   Moses requests the people of God: “You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old” (Lev 19:32).  Ben Sirach advises: “Do not disdain one who is old” (Sir 8:6). The Psalmist: “In old age, they will still bear fruit, will remain fresh and full of sap showing that the Lord is upright” (Ps. 92:14-15).  

Honoring the elderly entails respecting their dignity and rights, which are equal to the dignity and rights of all others. The senior citizens should be respected and honored after a life of service to family, society and Church.

The believers in God proclaim the divine dignity of all human beings, who are “image of God” and brothers and sisters of one another. The elderly are not a burden to the community but “an example of connectedness between generations, a resource for the well-being of the family,” “an important school of life, capable of transmitting values and traditions” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church).

Our faith speaks of human aging as a journey, a pilgrimage to the house of God the Father. In the Catholic Church, believers are asked to love the elderly with especial love, that is, with preferential love because they are often among the sick and the poor. The elderly are also evangelizers in the Church. In a special way, they preach the Good News of Jesus with and though the dynamic movement and association called Ascending Life (AL), which was founded in the 1950s and is now spread throughout the world in thousands of groups in which the members help each other by cultivating friendship, spirituality and the apostolate, and thus contribute significantly to the evangelization of the world.


Pope Francis has often called on society to cherish the elderly as a source of wisdom and experience, and he has lamented “a throwaway culture" that puts them aside. Our secular, materialistic, and consumeristic society is guided - more and more - by law and not by morality. And what is legal is, at times, immoral (like “legal” abortion or euthanasia).

Two examples of discrimination today. During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, there was no hospitalization or ICUs for some elderly just because they were old. Thus, their right to life and to health services were denied to them. Another example: some laws favoring euthanasia seem to be applied, at least in a hidden manner, to the elderly who feel invited – if not socially forced - to end their lives because they are considered “unproductive and useless.” A dramatic question: “How could they [the elderly] not feel guilty for still being here, for costing so much, and for being useless?” (Erich Fuchs); How many times they are thrown away with attitudes of abandonment that are authentic hidden euthanasia? (Pope Francis).

A peaceful society requires that the young and old journey together in intergenerational harmony and empathic solidarity. Elderly and adult are asked to accompany the young and let them do what they can, listen to what they have to say, walk with them when they suffer, pray with and for them, in a word, loving them, and sustaining their hope in God.

Some time ago, I attended a symposium sponsored by the University of Saint Joseph (Macau) on the social services provided to the elderly in China, Hong Kong, and Macau. It was an enlightening symposium. A surprising question I asked the speakers: “Are the elderly happy?” The surveys – the speakers answered - do not answer this question. It is, perhaps, a crucial question to ask: Are the seniors among us happy? Do they feel honored?  

May the Fourth Sunday of July 2021, in which we celebrate the First World Day of Grandparents and the Elderlyhelp us honor our dear brothers and sisters who are old in age.