02/09/2021, 14.12
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Vatican: assisting the elderly to still 'give'

Document of the Pontifical Academy for Life: "Old age: our future. The elderly after the pandemic." "The individual as the main focus, with his or her needs and rights", "is an expression of progress, civilization and an authentic Christian conscience". "Young and old, coming together, can bring a new lymph of humanism and greater unity into the social fabric".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - A "cultural turning point" so the elderly can be cared for in family contexts in environments that are more like a home than a hospital, involving young people and in particular believers. This is the proposal put forward by the Pontifical Academy for Life in the document: "Old age: our future. The elderly after the pandemic", presented today.

The basic idea is that the elderly are not, and should not be seen or treated exclusively in the context of their frailty with the accompanying care needs, but a people who are still able to "give".

The document starts from the observation that the pandemic has shown that “we are all at the mercy of the same storm, but in a certain sense, we can also say that we are rowing on different boats: the most fragile ones sink every day. It is essential to rethink the development model of the entire planet. Everyone is called upon: politics, the economy, society, religious organizations, to start a new social order that places the common good of peoples at the centre ".

Under the blows of the virus, there was talk of an "unimaginable tragedy" that occurred in hospices for the elderly.

Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, at the presentation of the document, stated "50% of the deaths of the elderly occurred among the approximately 300,000 guests of nursing homes and care homes while only 24% affected the 7 million elderly over 75 living at home. The home, even during the pandemic, all other things being equal, gave greater protection.”

 This, he added, shows that “we urgently need a global rethinking of how society assists the elderly. Much needs to be reviewed in the system of care and assistance for the elderly”.

In the structure of society, however, a change is taking place: the progress of medicine has produced the lengthening of life. And “contrary to what a stereotyped vision might make us imagine, globally cities are places where on average people live longer. Therefore, the elderly are numerous, but it is essential to make the cities habitable for them too. According to data from the World Health Organization, in 2050 there will be two billion over-60s in the world: therefore, one in five people will be elderly”.

If there are those who see old age as a disease, Pope Francis has called it "a privilege! Loneliness can be a disease, but with charity, closeness and spiritual comfort we can heal it”. "In any case, being elderly is a gift from God and an enormous resource, an achievement to be carefully safeguarded".

Faced with the substantial loneliness that often accompanies life in retirement homes, it is necessary to "support families who, especially if made up of a few children and grandchildren, cannot bear the sometimes exhausting responsibility of treating a demanding disease, costly in terms of energy and money, on their own. A wider network of solidarity must be reinvented, not necessarily and exclusively based on blood ties, but articulated according to affiliations, friendships, common feelings, mutual generosity in responding to the needs of others ". It is about "focusing on the individual, with their needs and rights".

This “is an expression of progress, civilization and an authentic Christian conscience. The person, therefore, must be the heart of this new paradigm of assistance and care for the most fragile elderly”.

"Each old person is different from the other". "The implementation of this principle implies an articulated intervention at different levels, which creates a continuum of care between one's home and some external services, without traumatic interruptions, not suitable for the fragility of aging". "Home care must be integrated, with the possibility of medical care at home and an adequate distribution of services throughout the territory. In other words, it is necessary and urgent to activate a 'taking charge' of the elderly wherever their life takes place. All this requires a process of social, civil, cultural and moral conversion”.


"In this context, dioceses, parishes and ecclesial communities are also invited to reflect more attentively towards the world of the elderly. In recent decades the popes have intervened several times to urge a sense of responsibility and care a pastoral care of the elderly. Their presence is a great asset. Just think of the decisive role they played in the preservation and transmission of the faith to young people in countries under atheist and authoritarian regimes. And what many grandparents continue to do to transmit the faith to their grandchildren”.

For their part, the elderly "must try to live old age wisely", while the pastoral care of the elderly, like any pastoral, must be placed in a missionary perspective. "Evangelization must aim at the spiritual growth of every age, since the call to holiness is for everyone, even for grandparents". The elderly, then, “are called to be missionaries, like every other age of life. In this sense, the Church [can make itself] a place where generations are called to share God's plan of love, in a relationship of reciprocal exchange of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This intergenerational sharing forces us to change our gaze towards the elderly, to learn to look to the future with them”. "Young and old, in fact, by meeting, can bring into the social fabric that new lymph of humanism that would make society more united".

“We can say - Msgr. Bruno-Marie Duffè, secretary of the Dicastery for the service of integral human development - that the health emergency has brought to light an important component of the social relationship. The ability to take up the challenge of life - its unknowns and its joys - is based, in part, on the inspiration of dialogue between generations: a dialogue that can be made up of words or silence, of the design offered by a child, which still makes the elderly dream, or by the tenderness of their gazes, which cross and encourage each other. The dream and tenderness: that's what it is. If the elderly continues to dream, the younger ones can continue to invent. If the gaze of the elderly gently encourages the projects of the younger, both will live in the hope that overcomes fears”.

"The aging man - finally underlines the document - is not approaching the end, but the mystery of eternity; to understand him he needs to get close to God and to live in relationship with him. Taking care of the spirituality of the elderly, of their need for intimacy with Christ and sharing of faith is a task of charity in the Church. The witness that the elderly can give with their fragility is also precious.

"Old age must also be understood in this spiritual horizon: it is the propitious age of abandonment to God. While the body weakens, psychic vitality, memory and mind decrease, the dependence of the human person on God becomes increasingly evident. Of course, there are those who can feel old age as a life sentence, but also those who perceive it as an opportunity to reset the relationship with God. Once the human props have fallen, the fundamental virtue becomes faith, lived not only as adherence to truth revealed, but as the certainty of God's love which does not abandon”. (FP)

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