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Pope Francis greeted nuns during his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 17.
Pope Francis greeted nuns during his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 17.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service

Elderly Catholics serve as witnesses to faith, wisdom

In 2022, Pope Francis dedicated a series of audience talks to the meaning and value of old age

“A light for others.”

“Witnesses handing down the faith.”

“An irreplacable blessing.”

These and more were how Pope Francis described the elderly in a series of audience talks he gave from Feb. 23 through Aug. 24 this year. The series was dedicated to the meaning and value of old age.

He began the series Feb. 23 encouraging Catholics to renew the alliance between young and old.

“Being old is just as important — and beautiful — as being young. Let us remember this. The alliance between generations, which restores all ages of life to what is human, is our lost gift, and we must get it back. It must be found, in this culture of waste and in this culture of productivity,” he said.

Noting that “there have never been so many of us in human history,” the 85-year-old pope said that now more than ever, the elderly face an increasing “risk of being discarded.”

“The elderly are often seen as ‘a burden,’” he said. The pope said that although the current demographic winter has led to a higher number of elderly than young people, the “dominant culture has as its sole model the young adult, that is, a self-made individual who always remains young.”

“The exaltation of youth as the only age worthy of embodying the human ideal, coupled with contempt for old age as frailty, decay, disability, has been the dominant image of 20th-century totalitarianism. Have we forgotten this?” he asked.

Instead of being “honored for the gifts they bring to everyone’s sense of life,” the pope said, old age, especially “in so-called ‘developed’ cultures,” is often disregarded “as an age that has no special content to offer, nor meaning of its own to live.”

Handing on the faith from generation to generation requires listening personally and directly to older people’s lived experiences and stories of faith, Pope Francis said March 23.

“Today the catechism of Christian initiation generously draws on the Word of God and conveys accurate information on dogmas, the morals of the faith and the sacraments,” the pope said.

“What is often lacking, however, is a knowledge of the Church that comes from listening to and witnessing the real history of the faith and the life of the Church community, from the beginning to the present day,” he said.

On May 4, he encouraged elderly men and women present at his weekly audience to “please be attentive to young people, they are watching us.”

“Young people are watching us. And our consistency can open a beautiful path of life for them,” he said. On the other hand, “hypocrisy can do so much damage.”

Criticizing the obsession of trying to stay forever young in appearance, the pope said June 8 people must not hide or try to get rid of their wrinkles.

“Wrinkles are a sign of experience, a sign of life, a sign of maturity, a sign of having made a journey. Do not touch them to become young, that your face might look young,” he said.

“Elders rich in wisdom and humor do so much good to the young,” the pope said May 25. “They save them from the temptation of a grim worldly knowledge devoid of the wisdom of life. And also, these elders bring young people back to Jesus’ promise, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’”

The pope said he and every other older person has “a very great mission in the world,” which is to “sow hunger and thirst for righteousness in the young.”

Elderly men and women are called to pass on their wisdom and shine a path toward a better tomorrow for future generations, Pope Francis said Aug. 24 in the final talk.

As one approaches the final leg of their mortal journey, little details, such as “a caress, a smile, a gesture, an appreciated effort, an unexpected surprise, a hospitable cheerfulness, a faithful bond become more acute,” and what is most essential in life “becomes definitively clear to us,” the pope said Aug. 24 during his weekly general audience.

“This wisdom of old age is the place of our gestation, which illuminates the lives of children, of young people, of adults, of the entire community. We, the elderly should be this for others; a light for others,” he said.

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