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Vatican conference to focus on role of the elderly

By Sarah Mac Donald - 29 January, 2020

An international conference on the pastoral care of the elderly opens in the Vatican today and Bishop Denis Nulty, Chair of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family, will attend it along with two lay members of that Council, Maire Printer and Gerry Mangan.

The conference entitled ‘The Richness of Many Years of Life’ will focus on the role of older people within the family and their particular vocation within the Church.

It is hosted by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and takes place from today Wednesday 29 until Friday 31 January, when Pope Francis will meet conference participants at a special papal audience.

According to the Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the gathering of representatives from around the world will focus on 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.

In an interview with Vatican News, Dublin-born Cardinal Farrell said today’s “throwaway” culture tends to set people aside and he acknowledged that even within the Church, the elderly are sometimes forgotten.

“Anybody that’s worked in a parish, especially in developed countries, knows that the elderly live a very lonely existence,” he said. “They need to become protagonists, because of the great experience that they have for the many years of life.”

Cardinal Farrell said that for the elderly to become protagonists means that “the Church needs to care for them, the Church needs to reach out.”

He stressed that it is very important for the Church to make use of the “many years of experience” the elderly bring with them.

In particular, the Cardinal noted that in many families, grandparents play a huge role in raising and educating the younger generations. At the same time, he said, we must care for their needs.

“We need to promote this, we need to promote a desire to care for the elderly, among everyone, and not to abandon… the elderly. They have a lot to offer.”

“We need to find out what is the best instrument to do all of this,” Cardinal Farrell said, “and that is why we are having this seminar.”

Speaking as he departed for the conference, Bishop Denis Nulty said, “Pope Francis loves the elderly and, from the beginning of his pontificate, on numerous occasions, he has emphasised their indispensable role in dialogue with young people in the transmission of the faith and in the youth’s rediscovery of their own roots.”

“The relationship between the generations is one of his favourite themes and it is highlighted again in this years’ message, just released, for the 54th World Communications Day. In that message Pope Francis highlights the value of storytelling. We all know the best storytellers are the elderly, our grandparents, who have lived life’s experience.”

Dr Nulty said that faced with the lengthening of the average life and the aging of the population, Pope Francis has asked the elderly to become protagonists and ‘not to pull back the oars into the boat’.

“I see this conference as an endorsement of the key role the elderly play in our Church and in society today. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recognised that critical role when he wrote a special Prayer for Grandparents in 2008.”

Referring to the active branches of the Catholic Grandparents Association in many Irish dioceses, the Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin noted that the Association which began in Ireland has spread throughout the world.

In September every year the Catholic Grandparents Association organises a pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock.

“This conference in Rome coincides with the celebration of Catholic Schools Week in Ireland. One of the highlights of Catholic Schools Week over the years, as we all know, is the day grandparents are celebrated and feted in school by their young grandchildren. Grandparents have a huge influence on the lives of their grandchildren and I look forward to this topic and many others being explored over our few days in Rome,” Bishop Nulty said.

Maire Printer was the Diocesan Delegate for WMOF2018 and has been a member of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family for six years. In 2013, she became President of the Catholic Grandparents Association, a position she held for four years.

Gerry Mangan has had a life-long commitment to the Church. He has been a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society for much of his adult life, of his Parish Council, Teams of Our Lady and, for a period, Marriage Encounter. For the past ten years he has been a member of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family.                                              

The conference will be live streamed on https://www.youtube.com/user/PcFamiglia/live

The richness of many years of life

First International Conference on the Pastoral Care of the Elderly

Rome 29 / 31 January 2020


29 January 2020
1 session
The Church close to the elderly

30 January 2020
2 session
The family and the elderly

30 January 2020
3 session
The vocation of the elderly within the Church

31 January 2020
Audience with Pope Francis 

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