Old Age Is Gift at Culmination of Life, Vatican Tells Conference

Church Administers Over 13,000 Centers for the Elderly

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MADRID, Spain, APRIL 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The elderly have an irreplaceable role in contemporary society, a Vatican official told the 2nd U.N. World Assembly on Aging.

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, and John Paul II´s representative at the summit, spoke Monday about the work of the Catholic Church in favor of the elderly.

The Mexican archbishop, who had a personal message from the Pope for the participants in the weeklong assembly, said, “In the divine plan, longevity becomes the gift of the fulfillment of the life that receives meaning from the wisdom of the heart.”

“Older persons are the guardians of the collective memory, they have the perspective of both the past and the future, living in a present that already takes on the sense of eternity and serenity,” the archbishop said. “They do not contemplate themselves as passively waiting for a destructive event, rather they look to the promised forthcoming of the full maturity of a life that never ends.”

However, in “the present culture of global productivity, they face the danger of considering themselves as not being useful, [yet] their mere presence must prove that the economic aspect is neither the sole nor the most important value,” he continued.

The Vatican delegate quoted U.N. statistics indicating “there are now 600 million people above the age of 60 years, and estimates show that the numbers may increase to as many as 2 billion by the year 2050. In the year 2030 it is estimated that 71% of this population will live in the developing countries and 12% to 16% in the rich countries.”

“Although it is better to grow old in one´s own family, we find an increasing number of abandoned older persons,” the archbishop said. Because of this, “the Catholic Church, now as before, tries to help them even in the economic aspect, regardless of the serious difficulty brought on by insufficient resources and lack of personnel,” he explained.

“Catholic agencies and organizations have 532 hospices in Africa, 3,466 in America, 1,456 in Asia, 7,435 in Europe and 349 in Oceania; in total: 13,238 hospices for older persons in the whole world,” Archbishop Lozano Barragán reported.

In face of “the marginalization of older persons in the present society” and in view of the future, “one sees the necessity of creating an inclusive society for all ages, which would have intergenerational equality as a basis, in which older persons have their place, especially women and the underprivileged,” the archbishop stressed.

He made a series of suggestions, which reflected John Paul II´s concerns in recent years, including the promotion of “intergenerational solidarity,” as an irreplaceable source of enrichment for children, young people and the elderly themselves. In addition, the archbishop encouraged the promotion of “intergenerational education, in which older persons interact with young people” for the benefit of all.

The elderly should also be involved in the “decision making at the family and social levels.” They should have access “to all basic social services, including health care, especially in rural areas,” and enter into discussions “with pharmaceutical companies in order to” be included in their research and be provided with low-cost medication, “especially essential drugs.”

Archbishop Lozano Barragán stressed the need to “encourage a positive self-image for older persons and overcome harmful stereotypes often provided by the mass media.”

Lastly, the Mexican archbishop said that “poverty and its accompanying problems can increase in old age, especially in emergency situations or situations of armed conflict.” Therefore, it is important that “social security systems and safety nets” be in place “to protect the lives and well-being of all people.” In addition, the “creative imaginations of older persons must be” tapped, “especially in the economic realm.”

In this connection, the papal representative reminded his audience that the “unpayable debt burden of developing countries must be eased for the eradication of poverty, so that social services might be provided to vulnerable populations, especially older persons.”

The U.N. conference ends Friday.

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