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ROME – In the hopes that the world can be freed from the “specter of loneliness and the demon of war,” Pope Francis is calling on the elderly to lead a “revolution of tenderness.”
Old age, he said, is not a time to “give up and lower the sails,” but a season of fruitfulness, with a new mission to accomplish, bringing the particular sensibility the elderly have for the concerns and affections “that make us human.”
Reminding younger generations of their humanity, Francis said, is what his own generation can contribute to the “revolution of tenderness, a spiritual and non-violent revolution in which I encourage you, dear grandparents and elderly persons, to take an active role.”
The pope’s words came in his message for the second church-sponsored World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly released on Tuesday with the theme “They shall bear fruit even in old age,” taken from the Book of Psalms (92:15).
The world, Francis said, is going through a time of “trial and testing,” which began with the “sudden, violent outbreak” of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 6.25 million people, “and then by a war that is harming peace and development on a global scale.”
It is not a coincidence, he said, “that war is returning to Europe at a time when the generation that experienced it in the last century is dying out. These great crises risk anesthetizing us to the reality of other ‘epidemics’ and other widespread forms of violence that menace the human family and our common home.”
Yet, he wrote, many among the elderly have come to a “sage and humble realization” of what the world so needs today: “The recognition that we are not saved alone, and that happiness is a bread we break together. Let us bear witness to this before those who wrongly think that they can find personal fulfillment and success in conflict.”
The World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly is celebrated each year on the fourth Sunday of July. This year, it falls on July 24. The date was chosen to be close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Virgin Mary and the grandparents of Christ.
As a footnote, if his health allows for it, the celebration might find Pope Francis in Canada, as he promised that country’s Indigenous peoples that he would try and be with them during the feast, which is highly regarded by Canada’s First Nations.
In recent months, his right knee has forced him to either cancel or postpone several engagements, including a visit to Lebanon in mid-June. He is scheduled to visit South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in early July.
According to Francis, the dire times the world is going through must inspire the elderly to “carry on our knees – with practical assistance or with prayer alone – not only our own grandchildren but also the many frightened grandchildren whom we have not yet met and who may be fleeing from war or suffering its effects.”
“Let us hold in our hearts – like Saint Joseph, who was a loving and attentive father – the little ones of Ukraine, of Afghanistan, of South Sudan,” the pope said.
The pontiff also said that many young people consider old age a “sort of disease” with which it is better to have no contact, leading them to think that the elderly are none of their concern and should subsequently be set apart in homes or places where they can be cared for, “lest we have to deal with their problems.”
“This is the mindset of the ‘throw-away culture’, which leads us to think that we are somehow different from the poor and vulnerable in our midst, untouched by their frailties and separated from ‘them’ and their troubles,” he said.
Yet, he explained, the Bible sees things differently, defining a long life as a blessing, and the elderly not as outcasts to be shunned, but palpable signs of God’s love: “Blessed is the house where an older person lives! Blessed is the family that honors the elderly.”
Those who in their old age “and white hairs,” continue to trust in God, Francis wrote, continue to receive his gifts in order to keep from being overcome by evil.
“We will come to see that growing old is more than the natural decline of the body or the inevitable passage of time, but the gift of a long life,” he wrote. “Aging is not a condemnation, but a blessing.”