POPE Francis has reminded the elderly that old age was a particular time of grace and cautioned that a society that did not properly care for its seniors was one with “no future”.
The Pope made the comments at a special celebration of the elderly in St Peter’s Square on September 28, with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI attending as a guest. Grandparents and elderly from more than 20 countries attended.
Pope Francis addressed the gathering after hearing the various testimonies of grandparents and elderly. He especially thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his attendance.
“I have said many times that I very much like that he lives here in the Vatican, because it is like having a wise grandfather at home,” he said.
The Holy Father pointed out that, “old age is, in a particular way, a time of grace in which the Lord renews His call; He calls us to keep and to transmit the faith”.
“He calls us to pray, He calls us to intercede, He calls us to be close to those who need it,” he said, because “grandparents have the ability to understand the most difficult situations – a great ability”.
“And when they pray for these situations, their prayer is strong, it is powerful,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis said “grandparents, who have received the blessing to see the children of their children, have been given a great task: to transmit the experience of life, the history of a family, of a community, of a people; to share, with simplicity, wisdom and the faith itself – the most precious inheritance”.
In this connection, the Pontiff mentioned the countries where religious persecution had been cruel, where “it was grandparents who have taken children secretly to be baptised, to give them their faith”. They “have saved the faith in those countries”.
However, the Pope noted, the elderly did not always have a family that cared for them. Therefore, he requested that homes for the elderly “be truly homes and not ‘prisons’”. They should be for the good of the elderly people, “and not for others’ interests”, Pope Francis said, adding that “there must not be institutes where the elderly live forgotten, hidden, neglected”.
He also stressed that the residences of elderly should be “lungs” of humanity in a country, in a neighbourhood, in a parish. “They should be shrines of humanity where one who is old and weak is taken care of and protected as a brother or an older sister,” he said.
Another aspect on which the Holy Father reflected was the abandonment of the elderly. He pointed out the times when “the elderly are discarded with attitudes of abandonment which are a real and proper hidden euthanasia”. This “is the effect of the throw-away culture that does so much wrong to the world”. Thus, “we are all called to counteract this poisonous throw-away culture”.
As Christians we were called to imagine, with creativity and wisdom, the ways to address this challenge, the Pope said.
“A people that does not protect grandparents and does not treat them well is a people with no future,” Pope Francis said. However, he also pointed out to the elderly that they “have the responsibility to keep alive these roots” in themselves “with prayer, the reading of the Gospel, and works of mercy”. In this way, we remained as living trees that in old age did not cease to bear fruit, he said.
Finally, the Pope said “one of the most beautiful things of family life, of our human family life, is to caress a child and to let oneself be caressed by a grandfather or a grandmother”.
The day, called “The Blessing of Long Life” and organised by the Pontifical Council for the Family, was an opportunity to hear the testimonies of grandparents who have found a true vocation in being grandparents. Forgetting their fear of being older or useless, the elderly proclaimed the joy of arriving to this stage of life.
Grandparents and elderly from more than 20 countries gave witness of a full and happy life at the service of others.
The celebration culminated with the Pope’s celebration of Mass and the Marian prayer of the Angelus.