Today’s world mythicizes power and looks, and thus the elderly have a special mission, Pope Francis says: To give witness to what really matters — the values that remain forever.
The Pope said this Saturday when he addressed some 7,000 elderly, including many grandparents, in Paul VI Hall.
The Holy Father emphasized that the Church looks at elderly people with “affection, gratitude and great esteem.”
“They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society,” he said, adding, “I don’t know if you heard well: The elderly are an essential part of the Christian community and of society!”
The role of the elderly is one of Francis’ favorite themes, particularly on papal visits, and in his address Saturday, he returned to an image he has often used.
The elderly, he said, “represent the roots and memory of a people.”
Experience is a “precious treasure,” he continued, “indispensable to look to the future with hope and responsibility.”
He said the witness of the elderly helps youth to look to the future with hope: “The elderly, in fact, witness that, even in the most difficult trials, one must never lose faith in God and in a better future.”
The Holy Father praised the role that elderly people carry out in parishes, and also in families, noting particularly how in countries that have suffered religious persecution, it is often the grandparents who transmit the faith.
“In a world such as the present, in which often strength and appearance are mythicized, you have the mission to witness the values that truly count and that remain for ever, because they are inscribed in the heart of every human being and guaranteed by the Word of God. Precisely as persons of the so-called third age, you, or better, we — because I am also part of it — are called to work for the development of the culture of life, witnessing that every stage of existence is a gift of God and has its beauty and importance, even if marked by frailty.”
Pope Francis went on to praise the “persons and structures” dedicated to caring for the elderly day by day.
Institutes that house the elderly are “called to be places of humanity and loving care, where the weakest individuals are not forgotten or neglected, but visited, remembered and protected as older brothers and sisters,” he said, adding that this is a way to show gratitude to those who “have given so much to the community.”
He said that protecting the dignity of the elderly means opposing the throwaway culture, since it marginalizes the elderly as non-producers.
“This idea of being disposable is awful,” he said, as he recounted a story told him by his grandmother. The story is about a grandpa who lived with his son and his family but was moved to the kitchen for meals since he was unable to eat without making a mess.
The father learned his lesson about ostracizing the grandfather when one day his young son was playing pretend, building a table which the boy explained would one day be for his father to eat, separate from the family.
“Children are naturally very attached to their grandparents and they understand things that only grandparents can explain with their life, with their attitude,” the Pope said. “The throwaway culture says: ‘You are old, get out.’ … You are old, yes, but you have so many things to say to us, to tell us, of history, of culture, of life, of values …”
Society needs your smile
The Pope also encouraged the elderly to seek out the younger generations.
Talk with your grandchildren, he encouraged them, even if they do things differently, listen to different music, etc.
“They are in need of the elderly, of this continuous dialogue; give them wisdom too,” he said, recalling how it was the elderly, the “wisdom of the people,” who received Jesus in the Temple.
“Read this [story of Simeon and Anna] in Luke’s Gospel, it’s very beautiful,” he invited.
He concluded: “Dear grandfathers and grandmothers, thank you for the example you give of love, of dedication and of wisdom. Continue to witness these values with courage! May society not lack your smile and the beautiful luminosity of your eyes: may society be able to see them! I accompany you with my prayer, and you too, do not forget to pray for me. And now I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon you and your intentions and plans for good.
“Now we pray to Jesus’ grandmother, Saint Anne; we pray to Saint Anne who is Jesus’ grandmother, and we do so in silence for a moment. Each one ask Saint Anne to teach us to be good and wise grandparents.”