Responding to Pope Francis’ call for the elderly to become “protagonists”, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has organized an International Conference on the pastoral care of the elderly, entitled “The Richness of Many Years of Life”. The meeting will focus on how to deal with the culture of “discarding” the elderly, as well as their role in the family, and their particular vocation in the Church.
In an interview with Vatican News ahead of the Conference, the Prefect of the Dicastery, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, said that our contemporary “throwaway” culture tends to set people aside; and he acknowledged that even in the Church, the elderly are sometimes forgotten.
“Anybody that’s worked in a parish, especially in developed countries, knows that the elderly live a very lonely existence”, he said.
“They need to become protagonists, because of the great experience that they have for the many years of life”.
The elderly as protagonists
Cardinal Farrell said that for the elderly to become protagonists means that “the Church needs to care for them, the Church needs to reach out”. That, he said, is one of the reasons for the seminar: “to reach out to the world, and see what exactly is happening in the Church”.
He said it’s very important for the Church to make use of the “many years of experience” the elderly bring with them. In particular, the Cardinal noted that in many families, grandparents play a huge role in raising and educating the younger generations. At the same time, he said, we must care for their needs.
“We need to promote this, we need to promote a desire to care for the elderly, among everyone, and not to abandon… the elderly. They have a lot to offer.”
“We need to find out what is the best instrument to do all of this”, Cardinal Farrell said, “and that is why we are having this seminar”.
The International Conference on the pastoral care of the elderly is taking place in Rome from 29-31 January, and will include representatives of Episcopal Conferences, religious congregations, associations and lay movement from around the world involved in this pastoral work.
Irish Bishops: Conference “an endorsement of the key role the elderly play in Church and society”
For their part, the Irish Bishops’ Conference will be represented at the three-day conference by Bishop Denis Nulty, Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family and two lay members of that Council, Maire Printer and Gerry Mangan.
Speaking as he departed for the conference, Bishop Nulty said, “Pope Francis loves the elderly and, from the beginning of his pontificate, on numerous occasions, he has emphasised their indispensable role in dialogue with young people in the transmission of the faith and in the youth’s rediscovery of their own roots.
“The relationship between the generations is one of his favourite themes and it is highlighted again in this years’ message, just released, for the 54th World Communications Day.
“In that message Pope Francis highlights the value of storytelling. We all know the best storytellers are the elderly, our grandparents, who have lived life’s experience.
“Faced with the lengthening of the average life and the aging of the population, Pope Francis has asked the elderly to become protagonists and ‘not to pull back the oars into the boat’.
“I see this conference as an endorsement of the key role the elderly play in our Church and in society today.
“Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recognised that critical role when he wrote a special Prayer for Grandparents in 2008. Many Irish dioceses have active branches of the Catholic Grandparents Association, which began in Ireland and has spread throughout the world. In September every year the Catholic Grandparents Association organise a pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock.”
Bishop Nulty concluded by saying, “This conference in Rome coincides with the celebration of Catholic Schools Week in Ireland. One of the highlights of Catholic Schools Week over the years, as we all know, is the day grandparents are celebrated and feted in school by their young grandchildren. Grandparents have a huge influence on the lives of their grandchildren and I look forward to this topic and many others being explored over our few days in Rome”.