In their 1999 pastoral message “Blessings of Age,” the U.S. bishops invited older persons, their families and faith communities to develop new initiatives that encourage the seniors to participate fully in society and in the Church.
Recognizing the social, economic and spiritual implications of this rapidly growing age group, the bishops encouraged a fresh perspective that embraces the gift of aging. In “Blessings of Age,” special words are offered for older people themselves, caregivers, the parish faith community and younger adults.
The St. Louis Review has published an annual Senior Living section for more than 35 years. The current issue of the Review highlights an outreach to a senior community by high school students, seniors who are active in their parishes and in their communities, volunteers with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps and more. It reports on older people as active participants in contributing to the Church’s life and mission and valuing their spiritual life.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis was a forerunner in providing services for older adults. Cardinal Ritter Institute, now known as Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, was founded in 1960 to address the needs of a growing senior adult population, especially the poor and frail. Today it is the largest agency of the Catholic Charities Federation and has been recognized locally and nationally for its work on behalf of senior adults.
The archdiocese also has offered other programs, including some featuring Richard P. Johnson, a St. Louisan who is nationally recognized for his pioneering work with older adults. His books include “Even Better After 50: How to become (and Remain) Well of Body, Wise of Mind and Whole of Spirit in the Second Half of Your Life.” He stresses finding a “personal purpose” and examining our faith and the gifts God has bestowed on us.
Similarly, many parishes of the archdiocese have programs reaching out to their oldest members.
In their 1999 document, the U.S. bishops show gratitude for the many ways in which faithful and generous older Catholics have built and continue to build up the Church, citing their gifts and talents as well as limitations and vulnerabilities.
“How the faith community relates to its older members — recognizing their presence, encouraging their contributions, responding to their needs, and providing appropriate opportunities for spiritual growth — is a sign of the community’s spiritual health and maturity,” the bishops stated.
We urge everyone to see aging as a gift to the faith community. We urge older people to continue to deepen their relationship with God in later life. We also see the rewards and challenges of caring for older family members and friends and encourage all to reach out to help them as well. And we applaud those who bring together older and younger members, encouraging them to learn from each other.