Elderly Must Play an Active Part in Society, Says Vatican

Aide Addresses European Ministerial Conference on Aging

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BERLIN, SEPT. 20, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican appealed to the international community to implement measures that will enable the elderly to contribute actively to social life.

The appeal was made by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, permanent observer of the Vatican, at the U.N. office in Geneva, when he addressed the European Ministerial Conference on Aging. The conference, sponsored by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, was held in Berlin from Sept. 11-13.

Archbishop Martin stressed that «too often, today, longevity and aging are classified as problems.» Instead, they are «a gift of God, to be enjoyed and utilized fruitfully.»

The Vatican representative called on social institutions to guarantee the existence of a proper framework so that elderly people can continue to be active in society. «We have not yet taken fully into consideration the broad significance of the demographic changes which will arise from increased longevity in Europe,» he said.

«Changes in family patterns in many European countries have led to a greater isolation of older people,» he contended. This is the result of individualist philosophic currents that led to the fall in the birthrate and a reduction in «the capacity of the family to carry out its role in intergenerational society,» Archbishop Martin explained.

«The fact of widespread and growing longevity will demand not just structural changes in our societies but also in the choices of persons,» the Vatican aide stressed.

The existing situation poses two challenges. In order to ensure that older people are enabled to remain independent «and active for the longest possible periods, greater stress should be placed on educational structures which provide intellectual stimulus and also address the particular spiritual needs of older people,» the archbishop emphasized.

In addition, there is a «need to foster a more positive image of older people,» he said.

The archbishop added that we «must recognize our societies as multigenerational societies, to which older people belong not just on the margins. Social recognition should not be linked solely to economic productivity. The inalienable dignity of each older person does not depend on his or her apparent» usefulness.

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