ROME — Pope Francis told senior workers Monday that the world’s future rests on a dialogue between young and old, while urging the elderly to engage in volunteer work to as a remedy for loneliness.
Elderly people “should not be considered as a burden, but for what they really are, that is, a resource and a wealth. They are the memory of a people!”, the pope told representatives of the Italian National Association of Senior Workers meeting in the Vatican.
“This is demonstrated by their contribution to voluntary activities, precious opportunities to live the dimension of gratuitousness,” Francis continued, suggesting that such work offers a series of benefits.
“Healthy elderly people can offer a few hours of their time to care for people in need, thus enriching themselves,” he said. “Volunteering is an experience that is good for both those who receive it and those who do it.”
The pontiff also proposed that keeping busy, or “active aging,” helps keep the mind fresh while staving off loneliness.
“Commitment to others can counteract the perception of loneliness, improve cognitive performance and increase mental well-being,” he said. “In other words, engaging in volunteering promotes what is called ‘active aging,’ helping to improve the quality of life once important dimensions of one’s identity are no longer present, such as the role of parents or the professional role after retirement.”
Recent growth of the presence of the elderly in volunteering and associations is an “optimal ground” for the living an active seniority, he said, while also allowing seniors to be effective agents of solidarity.
As much as possible, the elderly must continue as “active actors and not only the recipients of welfare interventions,” he said.
Seniors have much to give to the young, the pope insisted, returning to a recurring theme of his pontificate, that of “inter-generational solidarity.”
The dreams of the elderly are “imbued with memory,” he said, and therefore “fundamental for the journey of the young, because they are the roots. From the elderly comes that sap that makes the tree grow, makes it bloom, gives new fruits.”
“The future of a people necessarily presupposes a dialogue and an encounter between the elderly and the young for the construction of a society that is more just, more beautiful, more supportive, more Christian,” he insisted.
This cooperation is reciprocal, he suggested, with each generation providing its particular gifts.
“Young people are the strength of a people’s journey and the elderly strengthen this further with their memory and wisdom,” he said, and grandparents in particular “are entrusted with a great task: to transmit the experience of life, the history of a family, a community, a people.”
Francis also said it is critical to overcome traditional stereotypes of the elderly as “sick, disabled, dependent, isolated, besieged by fears, left aside, with a weak identity for the loss of a social role” as well as an exaggerated focus on the “costs and risks” of old age rather than “the resources and potential of the elderly.”
While young people are “frequently discarded because they do not have a job,” he said, the elderly “are discarded with the pretense of maintaining a ‘balanced’ economic system, at the centre of which there is not the human person, but money.”
“We are all called upon to counter this poisonous throwaway culture,” he said. “We are called to build with tenacity a different society, more welcoming, more human, more inclusive, which does not need to discard those who are weak in body and mind, rather, a society that measures its ‘pace’ precisely by these people.”
What is needed instead is more solidarity and mutual appreciation he said, because the reality is that the future “will be in the dialogue between young and old.”
“If grandparents do not dialogue with grandchildren, there will be no future,” he declared.