Pope Benedict's Address at "Viva Gli Anziani" Retirement Home

«Longevity is [..] a Blessing of God»

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ROME, NOV. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Yesterday morning, Pope Benedict XVI went to visit the “Viva gli Anziani” Retirement home of the Sant’Egidio Community at Gianicolo in Rome on the occasion of the European Year of Active Ageing and of Solidarity between generations.

Upon his arrival, after a brief visit of the residential building, the Pope went to the garden of the retirement home where he met the guests, volunteers and members of the Sant’Egidio Community. Here is the text of his address.

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Dear Brothers and Dear Sisters,

I am truly happy to be with you in this Retirement Home of the Sant’Egidio Community, dedicated to the elderly. I thank your President, Professor Marco Impagliazzo, for the warm words he addressed to me. With him, I greet Professor Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community. I thank the auxiliary bishop of the Historic Center, Bishop Matteo Zuppi, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and all the friends of the Sant’Egidio Community.

I come among you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an elderly man visiting his peers. I know well the difficulties, the problems and the limits of this age, and I know that for many, these difficulties are aggravated by the economic crisis. Sometimes, at a certain age, one looks to the past recalling when one was young, enjoyed fresh energies, made plans for the future. So, at times, our look is clouded by sadness, considering this phase of life as the time of decline. This morning, ideally addressing all the elderly, in the awareness also of the difficulties that our age entails, I would like to say to you with profound conviction: it is beautiful to be elderly! It is necessary to discover in every age the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches it contains. We must never let ourselves be imprisoned by sadness! We received the gift of a long life. It is lovely to live also at our age, despite some “aches and pains” and some limitations. On our face there must always be the joy of feeling ourselves loved by God, never sadness.

In the Bible, longevity is considered a blessing of God; today this blessing has spread and must be seen as a gift to appreciate and value. Yet often society, dominated by the logic of efficiency and profit, does not receive it as such, instead it often rejects it, regarding the elderly as non-productive, useless. Felt many times is the suffering of those that are marginalized, who live far from their home or in loneliness. I think that we should act with greater commitment, beginning with families and public institutions, so that the elderly are able to stay in their own homes. The wisdom of life, of which they are bearers, is a great richness. The quality of a society, I would say of a civilization, is also judged by the way the elderly are treated and the place given to them in ordinary living. Those who make room for the elderly make room for life! Those who received the elderly receive life!

From its beginning, Sant’Egidio Community has supported so many elderly, helping them to stay in their environments of life, opening several retirement homes in Rome and in the world. Through solidarity between young people and the elderly, it has helped to make it understood how the Church is effectively the family of all generations, in which each one must feel “at home” and where the logic of profit and having does not reign but that of gratuitousness and love. When life becomes fragile, in the years of old age, it never loses its value and its dignity: each one of us, in whatever stage of existence, is wanted and loved by God, each one is important and necessary (cf. Homily for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry, April 24, 2005).

Today’s visit is in the context of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between generations. In fact, it is in this context that I wish to confirm that the elderly are a value for society, especially for the young. There cannot be real human growth and education without a fruitful contact with the elderly, because their very existence is like an open book in which the young generations can find precious directions for life’s journey.

Dear friends, at our age we often experience the need of others’ help; and this is true also for the Pope. We read in the Gospel that Jesus said to the Apostle Peter: “when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). The Lord was referring to the way in which the Apostle would witness his faith unto martyrdom, but this phrase makes us reflect on the fact that the need for help is a condition of the elderly. I would like to invite you to see also in this a gift of the Lord, because it is a grace to be supported and accompanied, to feel the affection of others! This is important in every phase of life: no one can live alone and without help; the human being is relational. And in this home I see, with pleasure, that all those who help and those who are helped form one family, whose vital sap is love.

Dear elderly sisters and brothers, sometimes the days seem long and empty, with difficulties, few obligations and meetings; never be discouraged: you are a richness for society, also in suffering and in sickness. And this phase of life is also a gift to deepen your relationship with God. The example of Blessed John Paul II was and still is illuminating for all. Do not forget that among the precious resources that you have is the essential one of prayer: become intercessors before God, praying with faith and constancy. Pray for the Church, also for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, that there be no more violence in the world. The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it, perhaps, in a more incisive way than the anxiety of so many. I would like to entrust to your prayer today the well-being of the Church and the peace of the world. The Pope loves you and counts on all of you! Feel yourselves loved by God and be able to bring to our society, often so individualistic and efficient, a ray of the love of God. And God will be with you always and with all those who support you with their affection and help.

I entrust you all to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who always accompanies us on ur way with her maternal love, and I gladly impart to each one my Blessing. Thank you all!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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