A top Vatican official has drawn attention to a weekly series of religious instructions on aging recently launched by Pope Francis, describing the directives as an invitation to the world to start developing “a new politics for the elderly, and also a new spirituality.”
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the Vatican’s leading representative on life issues, lauded as timely the pope’s weekly catechesis on the value of aging, which he launched during his February 23 general audience.
Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, leads an Italian government commission on care for the elderly. “The two great problems of the 21st century are on one hand migration, and on the other old age,” he was quoted as saying in a February 28 article in the Catholic news agency Crux.
The Vatican official acknowledged that medical advances have boosted people’s life spans to a point where “[f]or the first time in history, we have mass old age.” Yet, he added, “political, economic, cultural, and even spiritual thought is still lacking.”
Pope Francis said in his recent catechesis that the elderly are often seen “as a burden.” Despite their increasing numbers, the “dominant culture has as its sole model the young adult, that is, a self-made individual who always remains young,” the pontiff remarked.
“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,” the pope said. “Have we forgotten this?”
Developing a more positive approach to the elderly is a challenge for the Catholic Church as well, Paglia acknowledged. Despite their growing numbers in the church, elderly folk “are not esteemed,” he said.
“If someone wants to make a pessimistic judgment of the church, they say, ‘it’s a church of old people!’” Paglia said. He bemoaned the lack of forums within the Catholic Church devoted to issues surrounding the elderly:
“Why did we have a synod on the youth, but no one thinks to have a synod on the elderly?” he asked. “Because there is no positive thought. They are also discarded in a spiritual sense.”
Stressing the importance of the pope’s new catechesis devoted to the elderly, Paglia called for the “need to find a spirituality of old age.” In Latin, he said, “there is a phrase—we must find an arte senecendi, an ‘art of getting old.’”
Valuing the elderly and forging stronger ties among generations has been a frequent focus of the leader of the Catholic Church.
However, this is the first time that the church has made old age a subject for open and sustained public consumption, Paglia said.
“The alliance between generations, which restores all ages of life to what is human, is our lost gift, and we must get it back,” the pope said in his first catechesis on old age. “It must be found again.”
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