When Pope Francis told a large group of elderly people last week that old age “is a time of grace” he may not have been referring to himself.
But he certainly fits the bill, as he turned 83 the day after making the remarks.
The pope offers a powerful example of an elderly person using his talents and gifts to serve others.
In the seventh year of his papacy and celebrating 50 years of priesthood, Pope Francis remains an active spiritual leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe and an inspirational figure on the world stage.
In his Dec. 16 talk to members of the Italian National Association of Senior Workers, the pontiff encouraged his listeners to engage with people of all ages. He said dialogue and encounters between the old and the young can help “build a society that is more just, more beautiful, has more solidarity and is more Christian.”
That’s wise counsel.
The elderly among us have much to offer to their families, their friends, and the broader community and culture.
We in the United States can surely benefit from the wisdom and guidance of the older Americans among us—our parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends—most of whom have lived through times of good and bad economies, war and peace, and major social upheavals.
And as birth rates continue falling, in our own country and in other developed nations around the world, and with people living longer and healthier lives, the experience and skills of the older generations will become more and more valuable.
“The elderly, grandparents, have a unique and special ability to understand the most problematic situations,” the pope told his audience of senior workers.
Of course, tensions between the generations have always existed and probably always will. Just as our younger generations would do well to listen to the advice of their elders, so too would it help our senior members to lean on the younger set for help in adjusting to our fast-moving contemporary world.
In our nation, with the presidential election less than a year away, it is virtually certain, regardless of which major party prevails, that the next U.S. president to take the oath of office will be in his or her 70s.
While we appreciate the energy and ambition of the septuagenarians in the running, we hope that in months to come both parties will recognize the need to identify promising younger people and encourage their future in politics and public service.
The Church, too, skews much older in its clergy and religious population than ever before and in that sense, too, has an important role to play in nurturing younger leadership, not just by the important role of encouraging vocations but also by encouraging lay Catholics’ involvement in the faith as the Church moves through the 21st century.
“The future,” to quote the pope, “will be found in dialogue between the young and the old.”
“With tenacity we are called to build a different society, one that is more welcoming, more human, more inclusive,” he said, and one where the young aren’t ignored because they aren’t working yet and the old aren’t ignored because people think their financially productive years are over.
Those are good thoughts to ponder and pray about during the Christmas season, and the New Year ahead.
Wishing Christmas blessings to all readers.