VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Old age “is not a disease, it’s a privilege,” and Catholic dioceses and parishes miss a huge and growing resource if they ignore their senior members, Pope Francis said. “We must change our pastoral routines to respond to the presence of so many older people in our families and communities,” the pope told Catholic seniors and pastoral workers from around the world.
Pope Francis addressed the group Jan. 31 near the end of a three-day conference on the pastoral care of the elderly sponsored by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. The Catholic Church at every level, he said, must respond to the longer life expectancies and changing demographics evident around the world.
While some people see retirement as marking the time when productivity and strength decline, the 83-year-old pope said, for others it is a time when they are still physically fit and mentally sharp but have much more freedom than they had when they were working and raising a family.
In both situations, he said, the Church must be there to offer a helping hand if needed, benefit from the gifts of the elderly and work to counter social attitudes that see the old as useless burdens on a community.
When speaking with and about older Catholics, the Church cannot act as if their lives only had a past, “a musty archive,” he said. “No. The Lord also can and wants to write new pages with them, pages of holiness, service and prayer.”
“Today I want to tell you that the elderly are the present and tomorrow of the Church,” he said. “Yes, they are also the future of a Church, which, together with young people, prophesies and dreams. That is why it is so important that the old and the young talk to each other. It is so important.”