02/09/2005, 00.00
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Church and society must care for the elderly, says Pope

In his Lentmessage , the Holy Father calls on society to abandon the view that the elderly are useless, something very personal for the currently hospitalised Pope.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – May Lent be this year a time to reject consumerism and focus on meditating on the great mystery that is the death and resurrection of Christ; may it enable us to reflect on what it means to be in the twilight of one's life, but also a time in which one has still much to offer to one's family and society.

This is, in a nutshell, what the Pope urges us to do in his Lent message: an invitation to put aside the idea that because one is no longer 'productive', one has become useless, on the margins of social life, often even within the family.

Man's future rather depends on "the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him . . . [Thus,] the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilisation."

Lest we forget, Lent is a privileged journey of the spirit in which we listen to the Word of God more devoutly and practice "mortification more generously thanks to which it is possible to render greater assistance to those in need."

 "Longevity," the Pope reminds us, "appears [. . .] as a special divine gift." And it is upon this idea, he writes, that we must "reflect during this [season], in order to deepen the awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church, and thus to prepare [our] hearts for the loving welcome that should always be reserved for them.

Progress in science and medicine has lengthened the human life span and increased the number of the elderly. This demands greater care for the world of so-called 'old' age, "especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present.

In a passage with strong personal overtones—given John Paul II's current stay in hospital— the Pope writes that if "growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better comprehending the Mystery of the Cross, which gives full sense to human existence.".

Having reiterated his opposition what might harm human life, the Pontiff insists that it "is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued. For this reason, economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them not to be excluded from social life, must be strengthened."

"In truth," he acknowledges, "during the last decade, society has become more attentive to their needs, and medicine has developed palliative cures that, along with an integral approach to the sick person, are particularly beneficial for long-term patients."

What's more, the "greater amount of free time in this stage of life offers the elderly the opportunity to face the primary issues that perhaps had been previously set aside, due to concerns that were pressing or considered a priority nonetheless. Knowledge of the nearness of the final goal leads the elderly person to focus on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years do not destroy."

Finally, "[p]recisely because of this condition, the elderly person can carry out his or her role in society. If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilisation."  (FP)

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