The valuable testimony of the elderly

This morning, the Pontifical Academy for Life made public the document "Old Age: Our Future. The state of the elderly after the pandemic", in which it reflects on the situation of our elderly and the valuable contribution they make to society. 

David Fernández Alonso-February 9, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
senior citizens' day

On Tuesday morning, February 9, at 11:30 a.m., live streaming from the "John Paul II" room of the Holy See Press Office, the Pontifical Academy for Life presented the document: "Old Age: Our Future. The state of the elderly after the pandemic".

Vincenzo Paglia, the Secretary of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, Msgr. Bruno-Marie Duffè, and Professor Etsuo Akiba, professor at the University of Toyama (Japan), a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, connected from the Japanese city.

The title of the document proposes a reflection on the lessons to be learned from the health emergency caused by the spread of Covid-19, on its consequences for today and for the future of our societies.

A way of the Church

In this sense, this situation that we are experiencing on a global scale leads us to learn lessons that have given rise to a dual awareness: "on the one hand, the interdependence between all and on the other the presence of strong inequalities. We are all at the mercy of the same storm, but in a certain sense, it can be said, we are rowing in different boats, the most fragile are sinking every day".. 

"It is essential to rethink the development model of the entire planet," says the document, which takes up the reflection already begun with the Note of March 30, 2020 (Pandemic and Universal Fraternity), continued with the Note dated July 22, 2020 (The Humana Communitas in the Age of Pandemic. Timeless considerations on the rebirth of life.) and with the joint paper with the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development (Vaccine for all. 20 points for a fairer and healthier world) December 28, 2020.

The intention, as can be seen, is to propose the path of the Church, teacher of humanity, with respect to a world that has been changed by the pandemic situation, addressed to women and men in search of meaning and hope for their lives.

The pandemic hit

The elderly were a particularly hard-hit sector during the early stages of the pandemic, specifically in nursing homes, places that were supposed to protect the most fragile in society and where, instead, death struck disproportionately more than in the home and family environment.

"What has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic prevents us from resolving the issue of care for the elderly by looking for scapegoats, individual culprits and, on the other hand, raising a chorus in defense of the excellent results of those who prevented the contagion in nursing homes. We need a new vision, a new paradigm that allows society to take care of the elderly".

In 2050, one in five will be elderly

The document highlights a striking situation, that "under the statistical-sociological profile, men and women have today, in general, a longer life expectancy". "This great demographic transformation represents, indeed, a great cultural, anthropological and economic challenge." According to data from the World Health Organization, - reads the document - in 2050 in the world there will be two billion people over sixty years of age, that is, one in five will be elderly. Therefore, "it is essential to make our cities inclusive and welcoming places for the lives of the elderly and, in general, for frailty in all its expressions".

The gift of being an elder

In our society, the idea of old age as an unhappy age, understood only as the age of care, need and expenses for medical treatment, often prevails. However, nothing could be further from the truth: "Becoming old is a gift from God and an enormous resource, an achievement to be safeguarded with care," says the document, "even when the disease becomes disabling and the need for integrated and high quality care arises." "And it is undeniable that the pandemic has reinforced in all of us the awareness that the 'wealth of years' is a treasure to be cherished and protected."

A new model for the most fragile

With regard to care, the Pontifical Academy for Life indicates a new model, especially for the most fragile, inspired above all by the person: the application of this principle implies an intervention organized at different levels, which realizes a continuous assistance between the home itself and some external services, without traumatic censures, not suitable to the fragility of aging, that "nursing homes should be requalified in a continuum The aim is to offer some of its services directly in the homes of the elderly: hospitalization at home, care for the individual person with care responses modulated according to personal needs at low or high intensity, where integrated socio-health care and domiciliation remain at the heart of a new and modern paradigm". It is hoped to reinvent a wider network of solidarity "not exclusively and necessarily based on blood ties, but articulated according to belonging, friendship, common feeling, reciprocal generosity to respond to the needs of others".

The young and the elderly

The document evokes an "encounter" between the young and the elderly that can bring to the social fabric "that new lymph of humanism that would make society more united." On several occasions Pope Francis has urged young people to help their grandparents. The document recalls that "the aging man is not approaching the end, but the mystery of eternity" and, to understand it, "he needs to draw close to God and live in relationship with Him." Hence it is a "task of charity in the Church" to "care for the spirituality of the elderly, their need for intimacy with Christ and for sharing their faith." The document makes it clear that "It is only thanks to the elderly that the young can rediscover their roots, and only thanks to the young that the elderly regain the ability to dream."

The valuable testimony of fragility

The frailty of the elderly can also be a valuable witness: "It can be read as a 'magisterium', a teaching of life", the document points out, and clarifies that "old age must also be understood in this spiritual horizon: it is the age particularly conducive to abandonment to God": "as the body weakens, psychic vitality, memory and mind diminish, the dependence of the human person on God becomes ever more evident".

The cultural turning point

Finally, he calls for "the whole of civil society, the Church and the various religious traditions, the world of culture, schools, volunteer work, the performing arts, the economy and social communications to feel a responsibility to suggest and support - within the framework of this Copernican revolution - new and incisive measures to accompany and care for the elderly in family contexts, in their own homes and, in any case, in domestic settings that are more like homes than hospitals. This is a cultural change that must be implemented."

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