To Federation of Family Advisory Boards

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

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 your work.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 April 1987, page 12

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