By Lydia O’Kane
A Vatican conference on the pastoral care of the elderly entitled, “The Richness of Many Years of Life” is underway in Rome.
The event, which is being organized by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life is looking at how to deal with the culture of “discarding” the elderly, as well as their role in the family, and their particular vocation in the Church.
Attending the meeting are representatives of Bishops Conferences, religious congregations, associations and lay movement from around the world involved in this pastoral work.
One of the participants is Catherine Wiley, founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association, whose mission it is “to help Grandparents pass on the faith and keep prayer in the heart of family life”.
Over the last twenty years the association has grown and Grandparent pilgrimages are now held in the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, Canada, and the USA; and are planned for Australia, Mexico, and the Philippines.
Speaking to Vatican News, Wiley describes this conference as “absolutely of its time; it is perfect timing for this to bring together likeminded people who can share views and ideas and commit to each other to just not talk the talk but to walk the walk.”
Vital role of elderly in the Church
Catherine, who is a grandparent herself, emphasizes the vital role the elderly and grandparents can play in the life of the Church. There is an opportunity, she says, to look at ages and stages of grandparents and the elderly and how they fit into the community. “We need in every community and in every parish a ministry for grandparents and the elderly, not just somebody who’s slotted into the role because they have nothing else to do; somebody who is part and parcel, who’s competent, who’s professional, who can see the needs in the parish a mile off.”
Loneliness and the elderly
Catherine lives for part of the year in both England and Ireland where she attends Mass in the Shrine parishes of Walsingham and Knock. She points out that some of the elderly people attending daily Mass in these villages can experience loneliness and fall victim to depression. “Nobody calls on them, there aren’t enough priests anymore to call on them; they’re worried about their last will and testaments; they’re worried about end of life issues; they’re worried about their families not coming to see them and I’m thinking, ‘how can this happen in a community so close, so loving?’. But it’s happened”, she says.
She stresses that there are so many older lay people who have the wisdom, experience and the skills to be a vital asset in the community and it’s important to get them “on board”.
Wisdom and storytelling
One of the most important and often underestimated qualities the elderly possess is the ability to tell a story. “We Catholics”, says Catherine, “have the greatest story ever told” and this is something that the older generation can pass on to their grandchildren. The only way to do it is to introduce your young people to the story of Jesus”.
“Passing on the faith gets harder and harder in the way that we were brought up in the faith”, she notes, “but the opportunities and challenges are magnificent because we live longer, we have more time to spend, more care to give, more wisdom to learn…”