Today we have presented with the Pontifical Academy for Life, the text "Old age: our future. The condition of the elderly after the pandemic".
We share here the full text of Mons Bruno-Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development.
In His Apostolic Exhortation "Cristus vivit", following the Synod of Bishops on young people, vocation and discernment, the Holy Father recalls the testimony of a young auditor of the Synod itself, from the Samoa Islands.
This young man, says the Holy Father, speaks of the Church as a "canoe, in which the elders help keep the course by interpreting the position of the stars and the young people row hard by imagining what awaits them further on". (Cristus vivit, 201).
This beautiful comparison of the Church as a canoe can also be applied to society. For if, as we progress along the often tumultuous river of our history, we lose the advice of our elders, we risk losing our memory. And by losing memory, we also lose hope (cf. the book "The wisdom of time - in dialogue with Pope Francis on the great questions of life" - edited by Antonio Spadaro, Venice, 2018) (Cristus vivit, 196).
The elderly are our memory and, consequently, they are, paradoxically, our hope. If we draw on their experience and their discoveries, we can continue the adventure of human history. Indeed, with memory, hope is possible. The paradox, then, is this: the elderly are always one step ahead. They have already passed through the places we are passing through and can tell us what certain experiences we are having for the first time will produce.
It is clear that each person must walk his or her own path, because, as St Augustine says, 'the path exists only because you walk it'. The path is, therefore, the parable of human existence, but we are never alone along the way: the elderly can advise us and the younger ones can encourage us.
The technocratic culture, which places immediate effectiveness at the center of thought and life, often leads us to abandon older people, to consider them less 'productive'. Moreover, there are industrial companies in which people in their fifties are considered elderly and sometimes even dismissed, for the benefit of younger, more "aggressive" people... Individualism, which Pope Francis, in His latest encyclical "Fratelli tutti", considers to be the thinking of a closed and egocentric world, is part of this culture in which there is no need for others: there is no need for the elderly, there is no need for those who go slower. In this culture, the elderly are, by definition, 'people at the end of their tether'.
This has two consequences: the elderly, who no longer participate directly in the processes of economic production, are no longer considered a priority in our society. And, in the context of the current epidemic, they are taken care of after others, after the 'productive' people, even if they are more fragile. The order of access to emergency care has shown, more than once, that they have been unable to benefit from life-support treatment. The other aspect of this same consequence is the breaking of the link between generations: children and young people can no longer meet the elderly, who are kept in close confinement. This sometimes leads to real psychological disorders in some children or young people who need to be with their grandparents, just as grandparents need to be with their grandchildren, otherwise they will die of another virus: grief.
We can therefore say that the health emergency has brought to light an important component of social relationships. The ability to take up the challenge of life - its unknowns and its joys - is based, in part, on the inspiration of dialogue between generations: a dialogue that can be made up of words or silence, of the drawing offered by a child, which still makes the elderly person dream, or the tenderness of their gazes, which meet and encourage each other.
Dreaming and tenderness: that's what it's all about. If the elderly continue to dream, the younger can continue to invent. If the older person's gaze gently encourages the younger person's projects, both will live in the hope that overcomes fears. Then the word of the prophet Joel can be fulfilled: 'your sons and daughters shall become prophets, and your elders shall dream'. All those educators and pastors who made children meet the elderly, know that those children have never forgotten that encounter: ... with a farmer, a fisherman, an artist, an inventor, a street beggar or a religious in his monastery. The old man, after all, has only one thing to do: to offer what he has discovered about life, so that the child still - and always - experiences the desire to discover and invent life.
What will be left of this terrible experience of a disease that has affected all ages and all peoples? Some, having experienced the suffering of separation, relearn within the family the bond of listening and caring between generations. Others keep within themselves, in intimate silence and with sadness, a glance and the regret of not having spoken more with those who have left. We all understand that older people offer us their memory, starting from the "fragility of clay pots" - as the Apostle Paul suggests. In the treasure of memory there is indeed faith, received and offered: that taste of eternal life that has already begun. For this reason, the generations, shaking hands in a gesture of shared affection, offer each other knowledge and dreams: a hope that cannot die because it is a gift from God.