Pope Francis urged Church and society today to fight the “indifference and rejection” the elderly suffer with a “revolution of tenderness”.

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This morning the Holy Father Francis received in audience, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the participants in the First International Congress on the pastoral care of the elderly on the theme “The richness of many years”, organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, and taking place from 29 to 31 January at the “Augustinianum” Congress Centre in Rome.

Full text of the address of the Holy Father

Dear brothers and sisters,

I cordially welcome you, participants in the first International Congress on the pastoral care of the elderly, “The richness of many years”, organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, and I thank Cardinal Farrell for his kind words.

The “richness of many years” is a richness of people, of each individual person who has many years of life, experience and history behind them. It is the precious treasure that takes form in the journey of life of each man and woman, whatever their origins, provenance, and economic or social conditions.

Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others. Always, it is always this way.

In the twenty-first century, old age has become one of the distinctive features of humanity. Over a period of just a few decades, the demographic pyramid – which once rested upon a large number of children and young people and had at the top just a few elderly people – has been inverted.

If once the elderly could have populated a small state, nowadays they could populate an entire continent.

In this regard, the enormous presence of the elderly constitutes a novelty for every social and geographic environment worldwide. In addition, different seasons of life correspond to old age: for many, it is the age in which productive efforts cease, strength declines and the signs of illness, the need for help, and social isolation appear; but for many it is the beginning of a long period of psycho-physical well-being and freedom from work commitments.

In both situations, how can these years be lived? What meaning can be given to this phase of life, which for many people can be long?

Social disorientation and, in many respects, the indifference and rejection that our societies manifest towards the elderly demand not only of the Church, but of all of us, a serious reflection to learn to grasp and to appreciate the value of old age.

Indeed, while on the one hand states must learn to face the new demographic situation on the economic level, on the other, civil society needs values and meaning for the third and fourth ages. And here, above all, is the contribution of the ecclesial community.

That is why I welcomed with interest the initiative of this conference, which focused attention on pastoral care for the elderly and initiated a reflection on the implications of a substantial presence of grandparents in our parishes and societies. I ask that this does not remain an isolated initiative, but that it instead mark the beginning of a journey of pastoral exploration and discernment.

We need to change our pastoral habits in order to respond to the presence of so many older people in families and communities.

In the Bible, longevity is a blessing. It confronts us with our fragility, with our mutual dependence, with our family and community ties, and above all with our divine sonship. Granting old age, God the Father gives us time to deepen our knowledge of Him, our intimacy with Him, to enter ever more into His heart and surrender ourselves to Him.

This is the time to prepare to deliver our spirit into His hands, definitively, with childlike trust. But it is also a time of renewed fruitfulness. “They will still bear fruit in old age” says the psalmist (Ps 92:14).

God’s plan of salvation, in fact, is also carried out in the poverty of weak, sterile and powerless bodies.

From the barren womb of Sarah and the centenarian body of Abraham the Chosen People was born (cf. Rom 4:18-20). From Elizabeth and the old Zechariah, John the Baptist was born.

The elderly person, even when he is weak, can become an instrument of salvation history.

Aware of this irreplaceable role of the elderly, the Church becomes a place where generations are called to share in God’s plan of love, in a relationship of mutual exchange of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This intergenerational sharing obliges us to change our gaze towards older people, to learn to look to the future together with them.

When we think of the elderly and talk about them, especially in the pastoral dimension, we must learn to change the tenses of verbs a little.

There is not only the past, as if, for the elderly, there were only a life behind them and a mouldy archive. No.

The Lord can and wants to write with them also new pages, pages of holiness, of service, of prayer… Today I would like to tell you that the elderly are also the present and the future of the Church. Yes, they are also the future of a Church that, together with the young, prophesies and dreams!

This is why it is so important that the elderly and the young speak to each other, it is so important.

The prophecy of the elderly is fulfilled when the light of the Gospel enters fully into their lives; when, like Simeon and Anne, they take Jesus in their arms and announce the revolution of tenderness, the Good News of He Who came into the world to bring the light of the Father.

That is why I ask you not to spare yourselves in proclaiming the Gospel to grandparents and elders. Go to them with a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands. Go out into the streets of your parishes and seek out the elderly who live alone.

Old age is not an illness, it is a privilege! Loneliness can be an illness, but with charity, closeness and spiritual comfort we can heal it.

God has a large population of grandparents throughout the world. Nowadays, in secularized societies in many countries, current generations of parents do not have, for the most part, the Christian formation and living faith that grandparents can pass on to their grandchildren. They are the indispensable link in educating children and young people in the faith. We must get used to including them in our pastoral horizons and to considering them, in a non-episodic way, as one of the vital components of our communities. They are not only people whom we are called to assist and protect to guard their lives, but they can be actors in a pastoral evangelizing ministry, privileged witnesses of God’s faithful love.

For this I thank you all who dedicate your pastoral energies to grandparents and the elderly. I know well that your commitment and your reflection are born of concrete friendship with many elderly people.

I hope that what is today the sensitivity of the few will become the patrimony of every ecclesial community.

Do not be afraid, take initiatives, help your bishops and your dioceses to promote pastoral service to and with older people. Do not be discouraged, keep going! The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life will continue to accompany you in this task.

I too accompany you with my prayer and my blessing. And please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!

(Source: Vatican Press Office)

Pope at Mass: worldliness, a slow slide into sin

Meanwhile, the Pope had said earlier Friday that one of the evils of our time is to slip into a state where one loses the sense of sin. Francis made the point in his homily at morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, noting that even a holy king like David had fallen into this temptation. Worldliness, he said, is at the root of this.

Reflecting on King David in the First Reading, Pope Francis, in his homily, noted that the King of Israel had slipped into a comfortable life, forgetting he was elected by God. He spoke about a normal, quiet life where a heart that remains unperturbed even in the face of the most serious sins, saying, it is a worldliness that robs us of the sense of sin and evil. 


Pope Francis mentioned the sins of David such as the census of the people and the story of Uriah whom he got killed after making his wife, Bathsheba, pregnant. He chose murder because his plan to put things right, after adultery, failed miserably. David continued his normal life quietly and his heart did not move.

Pope Francis wondered how the great David, who was holy, who had done so many good things and who was so united with God, could have done that. This did not happen overnight, the Pope said, adding, David slipped slowly. He noted that there are sins of the moment, such as anger or insult that one cannot control, but there are also sins into which one slips slowly, with the spirit of worldliness.

It’s the spirit of the world, the Pope said, that leads you to do these things as if they were normal. “An assassination…!”

Slipping into sin

“Slowly” is an adverb that the Pope often uses to explain the way sin slowly takes hold of a person taking advantage of his or her comfort. He admitted that all are all sinners, but sometimes we sin on the spur of the moment, such as getting angry or insulting, but then we repent.

Sometimes, instead, “we let ourselves slip into a state where life seems normal”, such as not paying the maid as you should or paying half what one should pay workers in the field. 

The Holy Father said they seem to be good people who go to Mass every Sunday and who call themselves Christians. He explained they do all this and other sins because they have slipped into a state where they have lost the awareness of sin, which,  according to Pope Pius XII, is one of the evils of our time. One can do anything… and, in the end, one spends a lifetime solving a problem.

The slap of life

The Pope pointed out that these are not ancient things.

He recalled a recent incident in Argentina in which some young rugby players killed a comrade in a nightlife fight. The boys, he said, became “a pack of wolves”, which raises questions about the education of young people and about society.

The Pope said, we often need a “slap of life” to stop this slow slide into sin. It takes someone like the prophet Nathan, sent by God to David, to show him his mistake.

Pope Francis urged Christians to think a little about the spiritual atmosphere of one’s life?

“I am careful and always need someone to tell me the truth, the reproach of some friend, the confessor, the husband, the wife or children, who help me a little?”

The story of the fall of a Holy King like David, the Pope said, should make us realize that it can also happen to us and we should be careful. We should also be aware of the atmosphere we live in. 

Pope Francis concluded urging that the Lord send us a prophet, such a neighbour, a son, a mother or a father, who slaps us a little when we are slipping into this atmosphere where everything seems to be lawful.

(Source; Robin Gomes, Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.