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Francis on Aging PDF Print E-mail
Friday, August 07 2015 08:41
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The current pope of Rome is not given to ignoring important subjects. This makes it a surprise that he did not talk about old people as a group until only a few weeks ago.

Of course, Francis has been surrounded by cardinals (almost all older men) and other aged officials who work at the Vatican.  And, don’t forget, he himself is 78, itself no paltry age.

His comments on aging people, published in both Spanish and English, are grouped in two categories.  The first focuses on the views of modern societies, while the second deals with families and their connections with oldsters like me.

For those who see the elderly only as a burden, he uses tough words. He states sharply: “It’s ugly. It’s a sin.” Clearly he wants no part in treating old people like mere bundles.

More broadly, Francis calls for social change: “We must reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities.”

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

 He sees our own welfare as dependent on how we have taken care of others. “If we do not learn to treat the elderly well, we won’t be treated well either, when the time comes.”

Looking at his own religious community, the pope observes how even Christians are being influenced by cultures largely focused on production and profit. The precepts of the Bible--to respect the aged and draw upon their wisdom-- are being ignored.

Francis feels strongly about people who fail to visit their aged parents.  He was shocked to discover a woman in his native Argentina who had not seen her children since Christmas.  It was now August. “It is so easy to put our consciences to sleep when there is no love,” he adds.

Moving toward more general situations, the pope speaks about what elders can do for society.  “It’s still not time to rest on one’s oars,” he says. 

But the exact nature of the elders’ task is a work in progress. The world is not used to having such large numbers of old people.

When it comes to finding one’s own new purpose, seniors need to sort of “make it up” as they go along. That’s because our societies are not ready, spiritually and morally, to give this period of life its full worth.”

This situation poses a challenge to the church as well: “Christian spirituality has been taken a bit by surprise, and it involves sketching out a spirituality of older people.”

 This man who sympathizes with all kinds of people does not hesitate to criticize some elders.  “How awful the cynicism of an older person is, he who has lost the meaning of his witness, scorns the young, and does not communicate knowledge about life.”

My account of these papal statements simply share a few of his strongest viewpoints.  I note them here in hope that others will find some inspiration within them.

Two of the themes impress me the most.  

First. the pope’s concern about cultures focused on production and profit. This points to an ongoing critique Francis makes about the way wealthy nations spend their money fiercely and neglect the many.

Second, the need to find a spirituality of old age.  Some excellent resources exist in this domain. However, all too many churches fail to address this issue. They don’t even preach on the subject.

Incidentally, not long before the pope published these views about aging, he indicated that he might resign his position someday. If so, one can hope that his concern for elders around the world will be taken up by his successors.