Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave Saturday to participants in the international conference hosted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. The theme of this year’s convention focused on the elderly who suffer neurodegenerative pathologies.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you for your welcome! I greet you all cordially.
I would like to repeat today that elderly people have always been protagonists in the Church, and they still are. And today more than ever, the Church must give the example to the whole of society of the fact that they, despite the inevitable “infirmities,” sometimes even serious, are always important, in fact, indispensable. They bear in themselves the memory and the wisdom of life, to transmit them to others, and they participate with full title in the mission of the Church. Let us remember that human life always keeps its value in God’s eyes, beyond any discriminating vision.
The prolongation of life expectancy that has come about over the course of the 20thcentury means that a growing number of persons deal with neuro-degenerative pathologies, often accompanied by a deterioration of their cognitive capacity. These pathologies affect the socio-health realm in terms of research, assistance and care in socio-welfare structures, as well as the family, which remains the privileged place of hospitality and closeness.
The support of help and adequate services is important, geared to respect of the dignity, the identity and the needs of the person being cared for, but also of those who assist him, relatives and professional workers. This is possible only in a context of trust and in the ambit of a mutually respectful relation. Lived in this way, care becomes a very rich experience, be it professionally or humanly; otherwise it becomes very similar to simple and cold “physical tutelage.”
Therefore, it is necessary to be committed to a care that, alongside the traditional bio-medical model, is enriched by areas of dignity and liberty, far from closings and silences, the torture of silences! Silence many times is transformed into torture. These closings and silences that too often surround people in the welfare realm. In this perspective I would like to stress the importance of the religious and spiritual aspect. In fact, this is a dimension which remains vital even when the cognitive capacities are reduced or lost. It is about acting with a particular pastoral approach to support the religious life of elderly people with serious degenerative pathologies, with diversified forms and contents, so that in any case the dialogue and relationship with God is not interrupted in their mind and heart.
I would like to end with a greeting to the elderly. Dear friends, you are not only recipients of the proclamation of the evangelical message, but you are always, with full title, also heralds in virtue of your Baptism. Every day you can live as witnesses of the Lord, in your families, in your parish and in the other environments you frequent, making Christ and his Gospel known, especially to the youngest. Remember that it was two elderly persons who recognized Jesus in the Temple and proclaimed him with joy and hope. I entrust you all to the protection of Our Lady, and I thank you from my heart for your prayers. Now, all together, we will pray to Our Lady for all health workers, for the sick, for the elderly, and then we will receive the blessing (Hail Mary …).[Translation by ZENIT]