In "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis urges people to reach out to the peripheries. Reflecting on his writings, Sister Constance Veit, director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor, stated that the elderly can hardly be a periphery in the Church since they often disproportionately fill the pews of our Catholic churches and serve in large numbers in its ministries.
But a deeper look at the situation of the elderly in America reveals that while she is correct overall, many older adults do indeed live in the peripheries of our society. According to the National Council on Aging, more than 25 million Americans aged 60 or older are economically insecure — living at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($29,425 per year for a single person). These older adults struggle with rising housing and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings and job loss.
Other seniors face loneliness, health issues and a lack of access to transportation.
Parishes, Church programs and individuals — many of them seniors themselves — are involved in reaching out to the elderly to bring them closer to their Church and its parishioners, to provide material assistance or to spend time with them. The Assumption Parish Senior Ministry and Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, highlighted in this week's Senior Living section of the Review, are just two examples of the outreach.
Cardinal Ritter Senior Services reports that the senior adults it serves seem to have fewer resources than ever and greater needs for an array of services from utility assistance to food to medicine and dental care. Cardinal Ritter has numerous volunteer opportunities — its most recent newsletter lists several opportunities such as volunteers to spend one-on-one time with its adult day program participants or extraordinary ministers of Communion at Mary Queen and Mother Center.
Sister Constance of the Little Sisters of the Poor followed up her presentation at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Fla., by encouraging elderly to take an active role in the Church. She called them both agents and recipients of the Church's charitable and evangelizing mission and noted that they are the most significant and rapidly growing demographic in the Church. She urged people to see them in terms of the dignity of every human life and for their irreplaceable role as wisdom figures with many gifts to offer.
We can prevent the elderly in our communities from becoming part of the peripheries if we reach out to them rather than push them aside and if we welcome the gifts they have to share. The structures are in place in our parishes, Church ministries and communities. Let's continue to support those efforts.
• To learn about volunteer opportunities at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, contact Michele Prevedel at (314) 961-8000 ext. 1317 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• To donate to Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, call (314) 961-8000 or visit www.stlouisreview.com/j0v.
• Check with your parish to see how you can help its ministries serving older adults.