Pope: Care for and Respect the Elderly, Storehouses of Wisdom
‘A society where the elderly are discarded carries within it the virus of death,’ the Holy Father said at March 4 general audience.
ROME — In his general audience March 4, Pope Francis condemned modern society for silently disposing of the elderly, saying that a civilization that views them only as burdensome is perverse and ill.
“It is a mortal sin to discard our elderly. … The elderly are not aliens. We are them: In a short or in a long while, we are inevitably them, even though we choose not to think about it,” the Pope told pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square.
“A society where the elderly are discarded carries within it the virus of death,” he said, warning that if we do not learn to care for and respect our elderly, “we will be treated in the same way.”
He recounted the story of how he visited a home for the elderly while still archbishop of Buenos Aires: During the visit, he stopped in front of one of the residents and asked her how her children were doing.
When the woman gave a vague response, Francis asked if they visited often. When she said, “Yes, always,” the Pope said he questioned further, asking when they last came to see her.
The woman, he recalled, replied that the last time her children came was “at Christmas. It was August … eight months without a visit from her children: This is a mortal sin.”
Pope Francis’ reflection on the elderly was part of his continued catechesis on the family, which he began last fall as a preparation for this October’s synod on the family. This week, he focused on the role of grandparents.
“The disposable culture considers the elderly as a burden, a weight, since not only do they not produce, but they also constitute a burden; and, although not openly, they are discarded,” he told pilgrims.
Many elderly people “fearfully live this situation of helplessness and abandonment,” he said, adding that a society “without proximity [to the elderly] is a perverse society.”
In contemporary times, people tend to live longer, thanks to advances in medicine, he observed, but cautioned that the human heart hasn’t necessarily extended to embrace the years added to life.
“Often, our societies not only fail to make room for the elderly, but even consider them a burden,” he said, explaining that the quality of a society can easily be evaluated by the way it treats its older members as well as the place it gives them in community life.
The Pope said this challenge is one particularly difficult for Western societies, which not only have larger aging populations but are also marked by “a cult of youth, efficiency and profit, which tends to discard everything not considered productive or useful.”
Due to their increased vulnerability and unique needs, the elderly, especially those who are ill or alone, require greater attention and care, he said.
However, rather than being a burden, such persons are what the Bible refers to as “a storehouse of wisdom,” the Pope said, and he pointed to how the Church’s Tradition has always placed great value on the elderly and devoted special attention to the final stage of life.
“For this reason, a distant, indifferent and even contemptuous mentality toward the elderly cannot be tolerated.”
Pope Francis encouraged attendees to remember well that “where the elderly are not respected the youth have no future,” and he called for greater solidarity between generations.
He then asked for those present to remember all the elderly who are alone, sick, in need and dependent on others, praying that they would “feel the tenderness of the Father through the kindness and gentleness of all.”