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Editorial: Recognize the gift we have in the elderly

They have an irreplaceable role as wisdom figures with much to offer

Earlier this year, we celebrated World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, established by Pope Francis to be celebrated each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Sts Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

The voice of the elderly — who are often left out on the peripheries — “is precious,” Pope Francis said, “because it sings the praises of God and preserves the roots of the peoples.”

The elderly, Pope Francis continued, “remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.”

The Holy Father said he instituted the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly because “grandparents are often forgotten, and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on” what the elderly have received.

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, struggling 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. Cardinal Ritter Senior Services is just one example of the outreach by the Church in St. Louis. This week’s Senior Living section provides other examples of older adults who have much to give to others.

Cardinal Ritter Senior Services has a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, from making cards with heartfelt messages to cleaning up the grounds. Last year, 7,000 people benefited from its programs, with 2,500 directly in the Catholic Charities agency’s care. Of those helped, 72 percent live below the poverty threshold.

Older adults make a big impact when they take an active role in the Church. They are both the doers and recipients of the Church’s charitable and evangelizing mission, the most rapidly growing demographic in the Church. They have an 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.

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