ROME — People have a responsibility to care for the elderly and cherish their wisdom rather than regard them as a burden on society, Pope Francis said.
Instead of learning from older generations, those who ascribe to the throwaway culture prevalent in today’s world seek to “erase the elderly,” the pope said June 15 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“This is a betrayal of one’s humanity, this is the ugliest thing, this is selecting life according to one’s usefulness, according to one’s youth and not with life as it is, with the wisdom of the elderly, with the limitations of the elderly,” the 85-year-old pope said.
“Elderly people have so much to give us because there is the wisdom of life,” he said. “They have so much to teach us. That is why we must also teach children to look after their grandparents and to go to their grandparents” for guidance.
The pope continued his series of talks about old age and reflected on the Gospel account of Jesus’ healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law. While the reading did not say if her illness was mild, the pope noted that “in old age, even a simple fever can be dangerous.”
“When you are old, you are no longer in control of your body,” the pope said. “As old people, we cannot do what we did when we were young. The body has a different rhythm, and we must listen to the body and accept its limitations. We all have them. Even I must walk with a cane now.”
For the elderly, he explained, illness can seem “to hasten death and diminish that time we have to live, which we already consider short.” However, Jesus’ visit to Peter’s mother-in-law, “together with the disciples,” is a reminder that Christians have a responsibility to care for the elderly in those moments of trial and suffering.
“Jesus, when he sees the sick elderly woman, takes her by the hand and heals her by putting her back on her feet. Jesus, with this tender gesture of love, gives the first lesson to the disciples: salvation is announced or, better, communicated through the attention to that sick person,” he said.
Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope said that the care of the elderly is “fundamental” for society, for the church and especially for future generations.
“Where there is no dialogue between young and old, there is something missing and a generation grows up without a past, that is, without its roots,” he said.
Pope Francis reminded Christians that the “spirit of intercession and service” taught by Jesus is meant to be followed by all and should not be relegated only to women. Nevertheless, “this does not detract from the fact that women, in the gratitude and tenderness of faith, can teach men things they find more difficult to understand.”
He also urged Christians to bridge the gap between older and younger generations so that the elderly may pass on the “memory of life, the experience of life, the wisdom of life.”
“In the measure that we can help young people and old people connect, there will be more hope for the future of our society,” the pope said.