“Pope Francis has repeatedly warned us on how we have ‘normalized the exclusion of our elderly.’ We must make significant strides in ending such exclusion by advancing the human rights of older persons and acknowledging their ongoing contributions. The work we are doing the next few days is critically important to achieving this objective.”
This was the April 15, 2019, message of Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, at the Tenth Working Session of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing Item 5: Measures to enhance the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons, at the United Nations in New York.
Following is the Archbishop’s Full Message:
The Holy See is pleased to participate in this Tenth Working Session of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing and reiterates its commitment to enhance the promotion and protection of the human rights and dignity of older persons.
Pope Francis has repeatedly warned us on how we have “normalized the exclusion of our elderly.” We must make significant strides in ending such exclusion by advancing the human rights of older persons and acknowledging their ongoing contributions. The work we are doing the next few days is critically important to achieving this objective.
Older persons are disproportionately impacted by the burdens of poverty, illness, disability, social isolation, violence, abandonment, abuse, and lack of access to such basic resources as adequate food and shelter, quality health care, reliable communication, nourishing companionship, and effective support in times of violence or disaster. Such burdens are compounded when they fall upon those who have also experienced great poverty in their younger years. In this regard, my Delegation welcomes the two specific Focus Areas for our work this week:
Focus Area 1, dedicated to “Education, training, life-long learning and capacity building,” fosters respect for the wisdom of age and the value of full participation that leaves no senior behind. The elderly are the “living memory of our people,” and for that reason, they can help everyone to discover their roots and become more aware of their own dignity.
Focus Area 2, on “Social protection and social security,” is also of utmost importance, as social protection measures are critical to ensuring that older persons never find themselves in conditions without the minimal level of security and well-being. Yet such protection and security are too often denied to them as they slide down the ladder of policy priorities, because they are not anymore considered as “productive” and “useful” members of society, and indeed are seen as burdens to government and society.
Such expendability is evident in the lack of adequate social protection and social security to ensure that older persons’ basic needs are met. In a more literal and sinister way, it is also found in those places where euthanasia and assisted suicide claim the lives of the elderly who are ill and vulnerable. The Holy See condemns, in the strongest possible terms, these practices and calls for the protection of older persons from such attacks.
Rather than elaborating a new convention, my Delegation considers that the most effective way to protect older persons would be to ensure that the rights already extant in international law are fully promoted and ensured at all stages of life. The promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons will be enhanced when they are advanced in the strength of youth, in the maturity of adulthood, in the vulnerability of illness, and in the weakness of the final moments of life.
This approach will help to avoid the further fragmentation of the human rights’ regime through the creation of multiple, specialized sets of new and competing rights. Redoubling our efforts to promote human rights for all will also help promote intergenerational solidarity that does not separate generations from each other, but binds them together. As Pope Francis says, “We can never leave others behind, never pass over generations, but must accompany one another daily…. For if the young are called to open new doors, the elderly hold the keys.”
In the days ahead, this Open-ended Working Group on Ageing will consider how best to make its lofty goals more concrete in the policies, programs, and initiatives of the international community.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis, Homily on the occasion of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Vatican, 12 December 2016.
2. Pope Francis, Homily on Ash Wednesday, Rome, 14 February 2018.
3. Pope Francis, Homily on the occasion of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Vatican, 2 February 2018.
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