Removing the elderly from their homes is often an unjust act of violence
The Holy Father received in audience the participants in the National
Conference of the Italian Federation of Family Advisory
Bureaus of Christian Inspiration on Saturday, 28 March. The Pope
spoke to them as follows:
1. I am delighted to welcome to this special audience today the
participants in the National Conference of the Italian Federation of
Family Advisory Bureaus of Christian Inspiration.
I warmly greet the President, Ines Boffardi, the Ecclesiastical
Advisor, Mons. Dionigi Tettamanzi, and all present, particularly those
who have enhanced this meeting and made it more interesting with their
contributions and interventions.
Let me tell you first of all how pleased I am with your Federation,
which, with the intention of studying more deeply the problems and tasks
of the advisory bureaus of Christian inspiration, chose this year to
examine the theme of the relation between families and the elderly. This
is a theme which strongly challenges modern society and which focuses on
certain acute and urgent questions.
As is well known, the elderly population is becoming unusually large
in proportion to the total population. Today people live longer, because
therapeutic advances have led to more effective health protection,
increasing man's average lifespan. But concomitant with this positive
fact there is a worrying decrease in the birthrate, and this leads to
the prospect of a future society without renewal and with a decline in
the number of active persons. Hence our society is forced to ask itself
with what resources and in what forms will it be possible to promote and
ensure an effective contribution for real assistance to the elderly, so
as to guarantee them a worthy and fitting lifestyle in keeping with
their dignity and their affective, cultural and social needs, avoiding,
as far as possible, anonymous and mass forms of assistance.
An urgent admonition
2. The fundamental question, then, is the quality of life in the
later years of life; how to see to it that this period does not become
synonymous with social marginalization, isolation, loneliness and
sadness. With a proper sense of values, you have wished to attest that
the humanly positive and satisfying resolution of. this problem hinges
on the family.
Obviously, from the Christian point of view the family represents for
us first of all a reality that has a moral character, that challenges
the conscience. How can we fail to recall at this point the significant
words of the Bible: "O son, help your father in his old age, and do
not grieve him as long as he lives; even if he is lacking in
understanding, show forbearance; in all your strength do not despise
him. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your
sins it will be credited to you" (Sir 3:12-14).
This admonition shows itself to be more urgent today, because one
notes that the family—numerically smaller, afflicted by housing
problems and work conditions that are not conducive to harmonious
relationships—tends to evade the relations and services that are
proper to it. Whence the aggravation of the condition of the elderly and
the tendency to seek outside the family an arrangement involving public
structures and expense.
If on the one hand such forms of assistance are possible and in
certain cases necessary and advisable, they should nonetheless always be
a last resort and should never force the elderly to abandon normal
relations with their families of origin. Only the family can keep the
elderly from being afflicted by that affective void which produces in
them a bitter sense of uselessness and of a lack of meaning in their
lives. To take an elderly person from his or her home is often to commit
an unjust act of violence.
3. The family, on the other hand, with its love and warmth, can
render the precious time of old age acceptable, cheerful, productive and
serene. Even at the most advanced age the human heart can continue to
refine itself in dialogue and in active and sympathetic participation in
the affairs of loved ones. Experience is enriched and transformed in
communion, while the prudence of the elderly can offer wise and valuable
elements of equilibrium in the evaluation of realities and problems. The
experience of the elderly also becomes a teacher of life and of example.
It is precisely the approach of the completion of earthly life that
leads the elderly to take more seriously their mission and not to forget
God's place in it.
Nor must the value of the availability of the elderly for educational
dialogue with the youngest members of the family be underestimated—their
ability to transmit to the younger generations the religious creed, the
vehicle of the theological and ethical truths of our Christian culture.
By his words and his life, an elderly person witnesses to the
seriousness and splendour of a faith lived in dialogue with God and with
respect for the values of his law, and he can be for the younger
generations a teacher and model of prayer.
In the elderly, then, there are resources which must be properly
esteemed and of which the family can take advantage so as to avoid the
impoverishment that results where these resources are ignored or
forgotten. Our desire must be that the prayers of the elderly fill the
home, that their extraordinary capacity for evangelization be an impulse
for the vigour of love and affection, an orientation for the fundamental
values of existence.
With these thoughts, I entrust to the protection of the Virgin your
intentions and efforts. together with all the activities of the
Federation of Family Advisory Bureaus, while I gladly impart my blessing
to all of you here present and to all those who interest themselves in