Organizers for the first-ever audience to be held between a pope and the elderly population have revealed that a central reflection will be the active vocation of the aged in the Church and in society. “We have given 20 years of life to old people now (in Western countries), but 20 years to do what? This is the big question that this meeting wants to share with everyone,” Fr. Andrea Ciucci of the Pontifical Council for the Family told CNA July 11. “There is a particular vocation of elderly and grandparents in society and in the Church.” Entitled “The Blessing of a Long Life,” the event will take place Sept. 28 in St. Peter’s Square. The square will open at 7:30 a.m. with the official celebration beginning at 9 a.m. The day will culminate with an audience and Mass at 10:30 presided over by Pope Francis. The idea to hold an audience with elderly and grandparents “came from the Pope himself,” who has spoken “many times about elderly and grandparent,” Fr. Ciucci observed. Quoting a recent speech the pontiff made, Fr. Ciucci stated that “the care given to the elderly, like that of children, is an indicator of the quality of a community. When the elderly are tossed outside, when the elderly are isolated and sometimes fade away due to a lack of care, it is an awful sign.” So this meeting, he said, “is necessary to proclaim to the world that elderly are inside the Church, are inside society,” and to go against the “awful signs” visible in today’s culture that tell us they are burdensome. Observing how the encounter will be the first-recorded of its kind, Fr. Ciucci explained that the family council, who is organizing the event, anticipates “many thousands of elderly and grandparents from Italy, from Europe and probably some representatives from the other nations of the world.” He affirmed that there will also be thousands more who are not able to come physically, but who will participate through the television and Internet. “It's very important for us and for the families of the world, to present, to put a light on this age of life,” the priest continued, stating that “the elderly and grandparents are not only an object of pastoral care,” but have a “particular vocation.” “This meeting is very important to promote the reflection of the role of elderly and grandparents in society and in the Church,” he went on, quoting President of the Pontifical Council for the Family Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia in saying that “even the Church must have this respect and reconsider the vocation of elderly.” “For example, besides the traditional task of transmitting the faith and helping parents, there are other equally important areas to be considered, such as prayer, the prayer of the elderly and the prayer of grandparents, and the transmitting of the Gospel.” Going on, Fr. Ciucci noted that in connection with advancing age are “all the civil aspects, a culture that older people can convey with particular care to conceive the weakening of life not as a final tragedy, but rather as a testimony of hope in the hereafter.” To be elderly, he explained, is “a vocation” to “transmit faith, to pray, to read Holy Scripture, to promote a culture of hope, to promote a culture of shared faith, share a way to stay in the world to the new generations.” In a July 13 video message addressing the elderly and patients of Antonio Gemelli hospital in Rome, Pope Francis encouraged them to cultivate in prayer “the flavor of the things of God,” and to “bear witness that your strength lies in God alone.” He apologized for canceling his June 27 visit at the last minute, explaining that he had suffered from a severe headache and nausea, which is why he was unable to come. The Pope told the sick that as patients who “experience the frailty of the body,” they are able to offer “a powerful testimony to those who are near you of how the Gospel and the merciful love of the Father are a precious asset in life, not money or power.” “Indeed, even when a person is important according to a worldly logic, he is not able to add even one extra day to his own life.” Pope Francis also drew attention in his message to how the summer months can be an especially difficult time for elderly and sick, “who encounter greater difficulties in obtaining certain services, especially in big cities.” Apologizing again for missing the appointment, the pontiff stated, “We must accept our frailty,” and asked that the patients and staff join him in cultivating “the trust that our strength lies in God alone.” “I entrust you to Mary and ask that you continue to pray for me, as I need your prayers.”
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