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Ignoring, abandoning the elderly is a sin, Pope says

Pope Francis greets elderly woman

Showing care: An elderly woman becomes emotional as Pope Francis greets her as he arrives for a May 2014 weekly audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The most serious ailment the elderly face and the greatest injustice they suffer is abandonment, Pope Francis said. Photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters

SEEING the elderly only as a burden “is ugly. It’s a sin,” Pope Francis said at his weekly general audience.

“We must reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities” and sources of wisdom for the younger generations, the 78-year-old pope said on Wednesday (March 4) at his weekly general audience.

Continuing a series of audience talks about the family, Pope Francis said he would dedicate two talks to the elderly, looking at how they were treated in modern societies and at their vocation within the family.

“An elderly person is not an alien,” he said. “The elderly person is us. Soon, or many years from now – inevitably anyway – we will be old, even if we don’t think about it.”

“If we do not learn to treat the elderly well,” the Pope said, “we won’t be treated well either” when the time came.

In a talk punctuated with references to his own family life, his grandmother and his experience visiting homes for the elderly in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis said even Christians were being influenced by cultures so focused on production and profit, that the biblical exhortations to respect the aged and draw upon their wisdom were being ignored.

“We elderly are all a bit fragile,” the Pope said, changing his prepared text to include himself among the aged.

The elderly he visited in Buenos Aires, he said, would often tell him that they had many children and that their children visited them. “And when was the last time they came?” the Pope said he asked one woman. “She said, ‘Well, at Christmas.’ It was August. Eight months without a visit from her children. Eight months of being abandoned. This is called a mortal sin. Understand?”

“It is so easy to put our consciences to sleep when there is no love,” he said.

“While we are young we are tempted to ignore old age as if it were an illness to hold at bay,” he said. “But when we become old, especially if we are poor, sick and alone, we experience the failures of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores the elderly.”

“We want to remove our growing fear of weakness and vulnerability, but doing so we increase the anguish of the elderly,” Pope Francis said.

The aged were the “reserve of the wisdom of our people”, they had experienced and survived the struggles to raise a family and provided them with a dignified life, he said. Tossing them aside meant tossing aside their experience and the way that experience can contribute to making life better today.

A society that cannot show gratitude and affection to the elderly “is a perverse society”, the Pope said. “The Church, faithful to the word of God, cannot tolerate such degeneration.”

“Where the elderly are not honoured,” he said, “there is no future for the young.”


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