Old age has always enjoyed an honoured and relevant place in even the most ancient and culturally or religiously diverse traditions, despite wavering between natural decline and wisdom, as seen clearly in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The same cannot be said of western societies today, where increasingly widespread materialism depends exclusively on the pitiless and short-sighted logic of profit: the elderly are, therefore, often ignored and old age itself hidden from view.
Significant, then, and reaching far beyond the Church was the scope of the Pope’s meeting with the elderly, to which the Bishop of Rome, with warmth and affection, had wished to invite his Predecessor. Ever present in the Pontiff’s preaching is his insistence on the two wings of society — the elderly and the young — who must not be left aside: when, in fact, we see only the present as useful, thereby risking society itself, depriving it of its roots, which are locked in the memory of the old, and depriving it of its future, whose hope rests in the young.
To the grandmothers and grandfathers — mothers and fathers “twice over” the Pope called them — he addressed a strong message of encouragement. Also in difficult and tragic situations, such as persecution, today in the Middle East and yesterday in countries like Albania, “the elders who have faith are like trees that continue to bear fruit”, always and anyhow. Old age, then, is “a time of grace” for the transmission of the faith, as the Psalmist sang and the Pope cited in his homily: “So even unto old age and white hair, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim your might to all the generations to come”.
The Pope designated Mary’s encounter as a young woman, “very young” with Elizabeth and Zaccariah as the icon of the encounter between generations which, right in the heart of the family, must be safeguarded. He offers this meditation to us exactly one week before the opening the Synod of Bishops which will reflect on precisely this subject, to underline above all its importance and beauty, without forgetting the often knotty, difficult and pain-filled situations.
The media’s focus has been intense; journalists may have been seduced by polemics, but, ultimately, they will have to rise above the easy solution of remaining superficial if they mean to report the true intentions the Synod’s contributors to this discussion. The main objective of this Synod, called for by the Holy Father, is actually what Bergoglio has always had at heart: to witness and proclaim the Gospel, especially to those who seem or feel far from it.
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