On the initiative of the Pontifical Council for the Family, a day dedicated to the elderly was celebrated on Sunday. Present in Saint Peter’s Square from numerous countries were thousands of elderly and grandparents, accompanied by their families.
The meeting, entitled “The Blessing of a Long Life,” began at 8:30 am with a “Review of Old Age in Five Biblical Episodes, Ten Verbs and a Story to Tell.”
The Holy Father Francis arrived at the parvis at 9:30 am and engaged in a dialogue with the elderly present, before the celebration of Holy Mass which began at 10:30 am.
Invited by Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI took part in the meeting from 9:30-10:30 am.
Here below is a translation of the text of the Holy Father’s address to the elderly, after having heard their questions and their testimonies.
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THE HOLY FATHER’S ADDRESS
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank you for having come in such numbers! And thank you for your festive welcome. Today is your feast, our feast! I thank Archbishop Paglia and all those who prepared it. I thank especially Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for his presence. I have said so many times that I am so pleased that he should live in the Vatican, because it is as though one has a wise grandfather at home. Thank you!
I have heard the testimonies of some of you, which presented common experiences of so many elderly and grandparents. However, one was different: that of the brothers who came from Qaraqosh, escaping from a violent persecution. To them we say together a special “thank you!” It is lovely that you came here today: it is a gift for the Church. And we offer you our closeness, our prayer and concrete help. Violence against the elderly is inhuman, as is that against children. However, God does not abandon you; He is with you! With His help you are, and will continue to be, the memory of your people, and also for us, the great family of the Church!
These brothers witness to us that, even in the most difficult trials, the elderly who have faith are like trees that continue to bear fruit. And this is true also in the most ordinary situations where, however, there can be other temptations and other forms of discrimination. We heard about some from other testimonies.
Old age is, in a particular way, a time of grace in which the Lord renews his call to us. He calls us to keep and transmit the faith; He calls us to pray, especially to intercede; He calls us to be close to those in need … The elderly, grandparents have the capacity to understand the most difficult situations — a great capacity! And when they pray for these situations, their prayer is strong; it is powerful!
To grandparents, who have received the blessing to see the children of their children (cf. Psalm 128:6), a great task has been entrusted: to transmit the experience of life, the history of a family, of a community, of a people; to share with simplicity wisdom and the faith itself — the most precious inheritance! Blessed are those families that have grandparents who are close! The grandfather is a father twice and the grandmother is a mother twice. In those countries where religious persecution was cruel, I am thinking, for instance, of Albania, where I went last Sunday, in those countries it was the grandparents who took the children to be baptized secretly, to give them the faith. Good! They were brave in the persecution and they saved the faith in those countries!
However, the elderly person, the grandfather, the grandmother does not always have a family that can received them. And so homes for the elderly are established … but they must be truly homes and not prisons! They must be for the elderly and not for the interests of someone else! There must not be institutes where the elderly live forgotten, as hidden, neglected. I feel close to so many elderly who live in these institutes, and I think with gratitude of all those who go to visit them and to take care of them. Homes for the elderly should be “lungs” of humanity in a country, in a neighbourhood, in a parish; they should be “shrines” of humanity where one who is old and weak is taken care of and protected as an older brother or sister. It does so much good to go to meet an elderly person. Look at our youngsters: sometimes we see them listless and sad; Then they go to see an elderly person and they become joyful!
However, the reality also exists of abandonment of the elderly. How many times the elderly are discarded with attitudes of abandonment that are a true and proper hidden euthanasia! It is the effect of the throw-away culture, that does so much harm to our world. Children are discarded, young people are discarded because they do not have work, and the elderly are discarded with the pretext to maintain a “balanced” economic system, at the center of which is money, not the human person. We are all called to oppose this poisonous throw-away culture!
We Christians, together with all men of good will, are called to build with patience a different society, more hospitable, more human, more inclusive, which has no need to discard one who is weak in body and in mind, but a society that measures its “pace” precisely on these persons.
As Christians and as citizens, we are called to design, with imagination and wisdom, the ways to address this challenge. A people that does not protect grandparents and does not treat them well is a people that has no future! Why does it not have a future? Because it loses its memory, and is torn from its roots. But, be careful: you have the responsibility of keeping these roots alive in yourselves! — with prayer, the reading of the Gospel and works of mercy. Thus we remain as living trees, which even in all age do not cease to bear fruit. One of the most beautiful things of family life, of our human family life, is to caress a child and to let oneself be caressed by a grandfather or a grandmother. Thank you![Original: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]