Let us not abandon the elderly
The elderly are greatly treasured by Pope Francis. Suffice to say that he mentions them many times in his innumerable speeches. The Argentinean Pontiff is concerned that the elderly today risk being crushed by the throwaway culture of our times.
The bottom line message of his address to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who met in Rome for their General Assembly in March, was simply this: We must not abandon the elderly! In his observations to the Assembly which centred on the theme “Assisting the elderly and palliative care”, Pope Francis said that palliative care “is an expression of the properly human attitude of taking care of one another, especially of those who suffer. It bears witness that the human person is always precious, even if marked by age and sickness”.
Furthermore, the Holy Father spoke of the obligation of honouring the elderly, which he linked with the biblical commandment to honour one’s parents. He said the Word of God has a harsh warning for those people who neglect or treat their parents badly. Pope Francis stated that this condemnation is in force even today when parents, “having become older and less useful, are marginalized to the point of abandonment”. The Holy Father clarified that “to honour” can be comprehended in our times “as the duty to have extreme respect and to take care of those who, because of their physical or social condition, could be left to die, or ‘made to die’.”
The Pontiff explained that palliative care acknowledges, at the conclusion of life, the intrinsic value of each and every human person. He exhorted those who are responsible for palliative care to maintain this spirit of service and to always remember that “all medical knowledge is truly science, in its most noble sense” if and only if it espouses the vision of the true good of the human being, a good that can never be attained when it goes against human life and dignity. Hence, as the Pope said, “it is this capacity for service to the life and dignity of the sick, even when they are old, that is the measure of the true progress of medicine, and of all society.”
In his address to the participants in the Jubilee of Volunteers and Agents of Mercy in September in Rome, Pope Francis told them: “Human mercy also does not become such – namely human and mercy – until it has reached concreteness in daily action. The Apostle John’s admonition is always valid: ‘Little children, let us not love in words or speech but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18). The truth of mercy is verified, in fact in our daily gestures, which render visible God’s action in our midst.”
Pope Francis truly lives what he preaches. In fact, in January of this year the Pope visited the Bruno Buozzi nursing home on the outskirts of Rome before heading to the Casa Iride, which provides care for persons who are in a continual vegetative state and also supports their families. This surprise visit was announced on the official Jubilee of Mercy twitter feed. The photos taken show Pope Francis meeting 30 residents in the nursing home and sharing a drink with them. The official website of the Jubilee of Mercy reported that “this improvised visit took everyone by surprise, and helped people understand the importance of the words spoken by Pope Francis against a culture of waste, and the great value the elderly and grandparents have in the Church and society.”
The second facility which Pope Francis visited houses seven patients who are in a perpetual vegetative state. The communiqué claimed that this gesture by the Holy Father “demonstrates the great value of human life, and the dignity with which it must always be respected.”
If, in our society, the elderly and sick, risk being neglected, what can we do to be close to them? Are we humanly smart enough to assume our responsibilities and start caring for them? Bearing in mind, as Pope Francis once said, that the elderly are a treasure to our society?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap Marsa