Whilst the general consensus is such that living to an old age is a blessing, not a curse, the recent spike in Covid-19 deaths has given rise to a heated debate about our elderly and their role within society. Listening to the ever-increasing number of deaths of old people, one will most definitely come across remarks which show a lack of empathy as we blame the natural cycle of life for their death. Do the roots of this stigma lie within our capitalist, profit-oriented society which often perceives the elderly as an obstacle to the growth of our economy? Are we forgetting their vital contribution to society?
During his address to a community of senior workers last year (Monday, 16 December 2019), Pope Francis made it clear that the elderly should be considered a resource and wealth to the general public for two main reasons. The first relates to their proactive generosity and their commitment within volunteering organisations. The hours they put into such experiences helps to better the society and to create a network of solidarity through the care and support they provide, whilst enriching themselves and acting as a medicine against loneliness.
The second argument the Pope puts forwards, builds upon the assertion that the elderly echo dreams that are fundamental for the journey of the young. Such a beneficial relationship between old and young constructs a society which is “more just, more beautiful, more supportive, more Christian.” This mutual relationship is exemplified through grandparents who are entrusted with a great task with regard to their grand children, that is, to transmit the experience of the people, and ultimately, of life itself. Giving our elderly the possibility to pass on their wisdom in this day and age where uncertainty rules, is a smart move which results in the utilization of resources for the better of society. As a symbol of strength and wisdom, we should all embrace the inclusion of older people in every aspect of life.
Whilst, unfortunately old age is intimately linked to sickness, the Church teaches that it is important that a sick or an old person shouldn’t be made to feel like a burden to others. Family, relatives and carers need to work to create an environment whereby the vulnerable amongst us “sense the intimacy and support of their loved ones” (Samaritanus bonus). This benevolent nature goes against any nonchalant attitude which considers the elderly as just a number, a product of old age and a healthy immune system strengthened by the advance in medicine. Even the terminally ill have the right, not only to be cared and looked after but also to be provided with hope and love when cure is impossible. Thus, we would be acknowledging God’s desire for every human to enjoy the fullness of life.
The Covid-19 experience can help us appreciate more the elderly and their role within our society, irrespective of whether they are related to us or not. These men and women not only have contributed to what we are today, but are still contributing to a more just and harmonious society. They are persons and not just a number. And their lives are worth every minute.