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The elderly can devote themselves to the community or parish

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 7 September 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In today's society, with its cult of productivity, elderly people risk being considered unproductive and a burden to others. The prolongation of life itself aggravates the problem of assisting the growing number of elderly who need looking after. Perhaps even more, they need affectionate, caring presences to fill their loneliness. The Church is aware of this problem and seeks to help resolve it, even at the level of assistance, despite the difficulty caused her by the lack of personnel and means, today more than in the past. She does not cease to promote the interventions of religious institutes and voluntary lay groups to meet this need for assistance. The Church reminds all, young people and adults, of their duty to think of their dear ones who, generally, have done so much for them.

2. The Church stresses with particular joy that senior citizens also have their place and use in the Christian community. They continue to be full members of the community and are called to contribute as far as they can to its development with their witness, prayer and activities.

The Church knows well that many people draw close to God especially in the so-called "third age." Precisely in this period, they can be helped to rejuvenate their spirit through reflection and sacramental life. The experience accumulated in the course of the years leads the elderly to understand the limits of worldly things and to feel in their earthly lives a deeper need for the presence of God. The disappointments they have known in some circumstances have taught them to trust in God. Their acquired wisdom can be a great advantage not only to their relatives, but to the whole Christian community.

3. On the other hand, the Church recalls that in the Bible the older person is presented as the man of wisdom, judgment, discernment and counsel (cf. Sir 25:4-6). This is why the sacred authors recommend associating with the elderly, as we read especially in Sirach (6:34): "Frequent the company of the elders; whoever is wise, stay close to them." The Church also repeats the double warning. "Insult no man when he is old, for some of us, too, will grow old" (Sir 8:6). "Reject not the tradition of old men which they have learned from their fathers" (Sir 8:9). She regards with admiration the tradition of Israel which bound the new generations to listen to the old. "Our fathers" chants the Psalm, "have declared to us the deeds you did in their days, in days of old" (Ps 44:2). The Gospel also proposes the ancient precept of the Law: "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16). Christ called attention to this, protesting against the expedients used to avoid it (cf. Mk 7:9-13). In the tradition of her Magisterium and her pastoral ministry, the Church has always taught and demanded respect and honor for parents, as well as material help in their need. This recommendation to respect elderly parents and to give them material help retains all its value in our age too. Today more than ever, the atmosphere of community solidarity which must reign in the Church, can lead to the practice--in old and new ways--of filial charity, in the concrete application of this duty.

4. In the context of the Christian community, the Church honors the elderly, recognizing their qualities and abilities and inviting them to carry out their mission. This mission is not linked to certain times and conditions of life only, but can be carried out in different forms according to the circumstances of each individual. For this reason they should resist the "temptation of taking refuge in nostalgia, in a never-to-return past, or fleeing from present responsibility because of difficulties encountered in a world of one novelty after another" (CL 48).

Even when they are struggling to understand the evolution of the society in which they live, elderly people must not retreat into a state of voluntary withdrawal, accompanied by pessimism and reluctance to "interpret" the reality approaching. It is important that they make the effort to look to the future with confidence, supported by Christian hope and faith, and growing in the grace of Christ which spreads throughout the world.

5. In the light of this faith and with the fortitude of this hope, the elderly can better discover that they are destined to enrich the Church with their qualities and the wealth of their spirituality. Indeed, they can offer a witness of faith enriched by a long experience of life, a judgment full of wisdom about the things and situations of the world, a clearer vision of the demands of mutual love, a more seren conviction of the divine love, which directs every life and all the world's history. As Psalm 92 already promised to the "just" of Israel: "They shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, declaring how just is the Lord..." (vv. 14-15).

6. Moreover, a serene view of contemporary society can make us recognize that it favors a new development of the mission of older people in the Church (cf. CL 48). Today a number of senior citizens retain good health, or regain it more easily than in the past. They can therefore be of service to the parish or in other sectors.

In fact, some elderly people make themselves very useful, where their competence and concrete possibilities can be employed. Age does not prevent them from devoting themselves to the needs of the community, for example, in worship, in visiting the sick, in helping the poor. Even when advancing age imposes the reduction or suspension of these activities, older persons retain the commitment to offer the Church the contribution of their prayer and to accept possible discomforts for love of the Lord.

Finally, we should remember, as old people, that with health problems and the decline of our physical strength, we are especially associated with Christ in his passion and on the cross. It is therefore possible to penetrate ever more deeply into this mystery of the redeeming sacrifice and to give the witness of faith to this mystery, of the courage and hope that derive from it in the various difficulties and trials of old age. Everything in the life of the elderly may serve to fulfill their earthly mission. Nothing is in vain. On the contrary, their cooperation, precisely because it is hidden, is yet more valuable for the Church (cf. CL 48).

7. We should add that old age is also a gift for which we are called to give thanks. It is a gift for the person on in years, for society and for the Church. Life is always a great gift. Indeed, for the faithful followers of Christ, we can speak of a special charism granted to older persons that they may use their talents and physical strength appropriately, for their own joy and for the good of others.

May the Lord wish to grant all our brothers and sisters who are getting on in years the gift of the Spirit, foretold and invoked by the Psalmist when he sang: "Send forth your light and your fidelity; they shall lead me on and bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place. Then will I go in to the altar of God, the God of my gladness and joy.... Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why do you sigh within me? Hope in God! For I shall again be thanking him, in the presence of my savior and my God" (Ps 43:3-5). How is it possible not to remember that in the Greek version of the so-called Septuagint, followed by the Latin Vulgate, the original Hebrew of verse 4 was interpreted and translated as an invocation to God "who brings joy to my youth" ( Deus, qui laetificat iuventutem meam )? We older priests have repeated these words of the Psalm which introduced the Mass for so many years. Nothing prevents us in our prayers and personal aspirations from continuing, even as elderly people, to invoke and to praise God who brings joy to our youth!

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française et vous, notamment, qui avez fait l’effort de venir du Liban, ce pays qui est chaque jour dans mon cœur et dans ma prière.

Je salue avec plaisir et amitié les participants au VIIème championnat du monde de natation. Je vous encourage à cultiver les valeurs du sport, la maîtrise de soi et la loyauté dans la compétition. Je vous invite aussi à mettre, dans votre vie de chaque jour, la męme ardeur, la męme persévérance et le męme sens de la solidarité, éclairé par la dimension spirituelle de la vocation humaine. Sur chacun de vous, mes chers amis, le Seigneur a un projet et il veut faire de votre vie quelque chose de grand et de beau! Je salue le groupe du diocèse de Viviers et son pasteur, Monseigneur Jean Bonfils. Je salue avec beaucoup d’affection toutes les personnes âgées et je leur souhaite la jeunesse du cœur et de l’âme! Je salue volontiers les jeunes et je les invite à recueillir la sagesse et l’expérience de leurs aînés. Que le Seigneur ressuscité vous accompagne chaque jour! Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I gladly welcome the new Seminarians of the Pontifical North American College, who are here with members of the College Faculty. I invite you, dear Seminarians, to be deeply conscious of the grace and responsibility that is yours as you begin your studies in this City of the Apostles Peter and Paul. May you grow ever stronger in faith and in love for the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wish to extend a special greeting to the choir from Denver accompanied by Archbishop Francis Stafford. All of us remember that magnificent experience of last year, the World Youth Day, that took place in Denver, Colorado. Once again I express my gratitude to the Archbishop and to all of you, my brothers and sisters, for that magnificent event.

Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Great Britain, Ireland and the United States, I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem innigen Wunsch, aus diesem Geist heraus den alten Menschen zu begegnen, grübe ich Euch alle, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Teilehmern an der Bistumswallfahrt ”Vom Dom nach Rom“ der Erzdiözese München und Freising sowie den Teilehmern an der Pilgerfahrt der Bistumszeitung Paulinus der Diözese Trier; herzlich grübe ich die Kirchenchöre der Diözese Würzburg, die Sänger-gruppe Amberg und den CSU-Kreisverband Würzburg. Des weiteren begrüße ich die ökumenische Pilger-gruppe der Dekane der Stadt Frankfurt und die Vertretung der Pfarrgemeinde St. Peter im Sulmtal aus Anlaß des 750jährigen Gründungsjubiläums der Pfarrei. E

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns in diesem Augenblick geistig verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Queridos hermanos y hermanas, Saludo muy cordialmente a los grupos de peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular a los fieles de las parroquias de San Francisco de Bilbao y de los Santos Juanes de Estivella, a la Cofradía de Jesús Nazareno de Úbeda, así como a los “Misioneros de la Virgen Peregrina” de Chile y al grupo de matrimonios de Nicaragua.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España les imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa: desejo a todos felicidades, paz e graça no Senhor! Saúdo em particular, os portugueses paroquianos da Igreja de Santa Maria do Esmoriz do Porto, como também da Paróquia de Abragão de Lisboa; Paróquia Nossa Senhora da Graça de Cabo Verde e o grupo Mensagem de Fátima. Saúdo, enfim, os numerosos brasileiros aqui presentes provindos do Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Ceará e Distrito Federal. Que a luz de Cristo anime sempre a vossa fé, esperança e caridade, numa vida digna, cristã e repleta de alegrias. E dou-vos de coração, extensiva aos vossos familiares e pessoas amigas, a minha Bęnção.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski! W szczególności pozdrawiam ks. bpa Kazimierza Górnego, biskupa rzeszowskiego oraz władze miasta Rzeszowa i kapłanów diecezji rzeszowskiej. Pozdrawiam również ks. bpa Szkodonia z Krakowa. Chciałbym szczególnie pozdrowić naprzód dwie pielgrzymki niepełnosprawnych z Krakowa, z Domu Pomocy Społecznej i Duszpasterstwa Akademickiego Dominikanów, tzw. “Beczki”, oraz z diecezji łowickiej - dzieci niepełnosprawne z rodzicami. Prócz tego pozdrawiam: z Krakowa, parafię Dobrego Pasterza; z Niepołomic, młodzież (KSM); z Kłobucka, parafię św. Marcina; pielgrzymów z diecezji kaliskiej; z Sandomierza, Pierwsze Liceum Ogólnokształcące; spoza Polski - parafię św. Moniki z Monachium oraz parafię św. Wojciecha ze stanu Indiana w Stanach Zjednoczonych. Równocześnie tym pozdrowieniem ogarniam wszystkich pielgrzymów zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji. Wszystkim tu obecnym, waszym rodzinom, parafiom, diecezjom i całej Ojczyźnie z serca błogosławię.  . . .

Pragnę wam bardzo podziękować, drodzy moi rodacy, za wiele modlitwy, której doświadczyłem w ostatnich czasach, a zwłaszcza w związku z zamiarem wyjazdu do Sarajewa.

Dziękuję wam za waszą modlitwę. Módlcie się nie tylko za mnie, ale za tych naszych braci Słowian południowych, ażeby mogło tam wrócić to, co dawniej było, to znaczy współżycie braterskie i pokój. Módlcie się bardzo o pokój na Bałkanach. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Ai croati

I bambini feriti sono i testimoni viventi dell’atrocità della guerra. Saluto cordialmente i pellegrini croati: il Coro della Cattedrale di Zagabria; i giovani della Parrocchia di San Marco Evangelista di Makarska; gli studenti del Liceo “Matija Antun Relkovic” di Vinkovci e in particolare il gruppo dei bambini feriti e dei loro familiari provenienti dalla Bosnia ed Erzegovina e in maggioranza da Sarajevo. I bambini feriti sono i testimoni viventi della atrocità della guerra nei confronti degli innocenti, e della necessità che tutti ci impegniamo a costruire la pace e la riconciliazione, e che la imploriamo insieme come dono del Signore, a qualsiasi etnia o confessione religiosa apparteniamo. Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Nel rivolgere ora un saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, desidero ricordare la rappresentanza del Gruppo giovanile dell’Oratorio San Giovanni Bosco di Giussano, i giovani della Sportiva Oratoriana Inverunese ed il gruppo ciclistico della Parrocchia di San Zenone di Omate.

Rivolgo il mio cordiale pensiero anche ai numerosi partecipanti al Congresso Nazionale dell’“Apostolato della Preghiera” ed ai membri del “Movimento Eucaristico Giovanile” che sono venuti a Roma per celebrare rispettivamente il loro Centocinquantesimo e Cinquantesimo anniversario di fondazione. Apprendo con piacere che codeste Associazioni, egregiamente animate dalla Compagnia di Gesù, continuano a crescere e ad operare, svolgendo un proficuo servizio spirituale in tutte le Diocesi italiane. Desidero esprimervi il mio sincero apprezzamento per il valido e concreto contributo che offrite alla diffusione a tutti i livelli della grande e consolante verità secondo cui ogni cristiano con la preghiera e con l’offerta della propria attività può collaborare efficacemente all’opera redentrice di Cristo. Vi esorto ad impegnarvi in modo sempre più generoso e perseverante in questa eletta forma di apostolato a cui è chiamato ogni fedele, partecipando così alla stessa missione della Chiesa. Il Cuore Immacolato di Maria Santissima vi accompagni in questi giorni di Cenacolo e, in seguito, nella vostra quotidiana testimonianza cristiana.

Saluto, inoltre, con particolare affetto i cori partecipanti al Congresso Mondiale dei Maestri di Cappella ed al Concorso Internazionale di Canto Corale per Cappelle Musicali di Chiese e Cattedrali “Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina”. Vi ringrazio di cuore per la vostra presenza ed auspico che la lodevole iniziativa sia sempre più di stimolo per una maggiore consapevolezza dell’importante funzione della musica religiosa nella formazione ed elevazione spirituale degli animi nell’incontro con Dio. Vorrei in particolare salutare la Corale dei seminaristi ortodossi di Caransebes e quella della Cattedrale di Timisoara della Romania che partecipano a questo Simposio. Con voi, saluto fraternamente il vostro Metropolita, Nicola del Banat, e tutti i fratelli della Chiesa ortodossa romena. Nel nome del Signore vi dico: “Benvenuti tra noi”.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Lo spunto per un saluto ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli mi è offerto oggi dagli eventi straordinari che la nostra società sta vivendo, e nei quali l’impegno morale della Chiesa è fortemente coinvolto.

A voi giovani chiedo: siate costruttori di pace, siate difensori della vita. Cercate questi fondamentali valori lasciandovi convincere dalla forza della verità, del diritto, della morale.

A voi malati chiedo di intercedere presso Dio perché la promozione della vita e della pace si rafforzi e si diffonda nel nostro tempo.

A voi sposi novelli chiedo di vivere nella pace e nel rispetto della vita dentro le vostre famiglie. Considerate ogni vita nuova un dono grande che Dio fa alla vostra casa, e siate educatori di coscienze cristiane, desiderose di attuare nel nostro mondo una società capace di amore e di giustizia.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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