ROME — Pope Benedict visited fellow seniors at a home for the aged in Rome on Nov. 12, speaking to their needs and reminding all of them of the special role they play in this “time of sunset.”
“I come among you as the bishop of Rome, but also as an elder on a visit to his peers,” the Pope told residents of the Long Live the Elderly Home, a project of the charitable Community of Sant’Egidio.
“I understand the difficulties, problems and limitations of this age,” he said during his remarks at the seniors’ assisted-living home located on the Gianicolo Hill near the Vatican.
Looking back on his own life, the Pope called it a natural tendency in one’s old age to envy the “fresh energy” of youth and all of those plans for the future. The past can become “veiled with sadness” if considered with remorse, he told the group of seniors, but this is not what God wants.
“It is nice to be elders!” Pope Benedict said emphatically.
“In every age, we must be able to detect the presence and blessing of the Lord and the treasures it contains. Do not ever be imprisoned by sadness! We have received the gift of a long life. In our face, there is always the joy of feeling loved by God and never sadness.”
He directed the seniors’ attention to the Bible — in which longevity is considered a blessing from God — noting that elders were rightly honored in the past.
But in a modern world “dominated by the logic of efficiency and profit,” the elderly are often pushed to the wayside, considered useless and left to loneliness.
This is the mark of a deteriorating civilization, the Holy Father asserted, since a community is defined by how it treats its elderly members.
“He who makes room for the elderly makes room for life. Whoever receives the elderly welcomes life!” declared the 85-year-old Pope.
Entrusting the group to the love and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pope encouraged his fellow octogenarians and upward with these words: “The Pope loves you and is counting on all of you! ... God will always be with you and with those who support you with their love and their support.”
He also reminded them that the elderly have a special vocation to prayer, shattering the illusion that the elderly are non-productive members of society.
At the end of his remarks, the Holy Father called on all people to heed the “wisdom of life” the elderly bear and to support them with love and friendship. The alternative is loneliness, which is so devastating because people are relational beings.
The Pope’s visit coincides with the European Year of Aging and Solidarity. The European continent grows ever older, as people live longer and the young fail to reproduce at a rate to sustain current population levels.
Life expectancy in Italy is 79.2 years for men and 84.6 years for women. But the Italian birth rate is the second lowest in the Western world, averaging just over one child per woman.
The result is a dwindling number of younger working people supporting an ever-larger number of retirees, which, the Pope observed, can cause intergenerational friction.