Elderly Are Not a Burden But a Resource, John Paul II Says

Papal Letter Addresses Aging of World´s Population

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 10, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II urged the international community to take measures to address the aging of the world´s population, «one of the most striking phenomena of the 21st century.»

In a letter addressed to the participants in the 2nd World Assembly on Aging, being held in Spain this week, John Paul II expresses his closeness to the elderly, not «only out of pastoral concern, but also because of personal sharing in their condition.» The Holy Father turns 82 on May 18.

The letter, written in Spanish and published today by the Vatican Press Office, poses a fundamental question: «How can the duration of an aging society be guaranteed, by consolidating the social security of elderly people and their quality of life?»

«To answer this question one must not be guided primarily by economic criteria, but rather be inspired by solid moral principles,» the Pope says.

First of all, a plan must consider the elderly individual «in his dignity of person, a dignity that does not lessen with the passing years and the deterioration of physical and psychic health,» the Holy Father states.

«Experience teaches that, when this positive view is lacking, it is easy to marginalize the elderly [person] and to relegate him to a loneliness tantamount to a real social death,» he stresses.

The Bishop of Rome says that «to be credible and effective, the affirmation of the dignity of the elderly person calls for manifestation in policies geared to an equitable distribution of resources, so that all citizens, including the elderly, can benefit from them.»

It is an «arduous task,» he adds, that «can only be realized by applying the principle of solidarity, by exchanges between the generations, by reciprocal assistance.»

«The elderly must not be regarded as a burden for society, but as a resource that can contribute to its well-being,» the Holy Father explains. «It is not just about doing something for the elderly but also about accepting these persons as responsible collaborators, in ways that will make this really possible, as agents of shared projects, either in the phase of programming, or of dialogue and realization.»

The Holy Father proposes that such policies be complemented with formative programs geared to educating individuals for old age throughout their lives, focusing «not only on doing, but above all on being.»

The Pope explains that this value allows for an appreciation of life «in all its facets and in the acceptance both of the possibilities as well as the limitations that life has.»

With this mentality, one can understand that in «particular moments of suffering and dependence, elderly people not only need to be cared for with the means offered by science and technology, but also supported with competence and love, so that they will not feel like a useless burden or, worse still, be led to desire and ask for death,» the Pontiff stresses.

In attaining this objective, a critical role is played by the «development of palliative medicine, the collaboration of volunteers, the involvement of families that for this reason must be helped to face their responsibility, and the humanization of social and health institutions that care for the elderly,» John Paul II concludes.

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