Many popes have reflected on the role of older adults in society, including Pope Francis, who convened the first international Vatican congress on the subject. Pope Francis also issued a Catechesis on Old Age. Older Americans Month, with its theme of Aging Unbound, is an ideal time to reflect on the Holy Father’s ongoing message.
Pope Francis presents two sides to the coin on aging. As we age, we often face an increasing range of challenges – physical, emotional, cognitive, social, financial, and so forth. Pope Francis points out that care for older adults is the responsibility of individuals, of communities, the Church and its ministries. Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia lives this mission every day, through offering affordable housing, parish eldercare services, and administering senior community centers.
Pope Francis also reminds us of the other side of the coin on aging. He emphasizes that “Aging is not a condemnation, but a blessing!” and “The elderly are a treasure for our society.”
Seniors receive care as they become less independent, yes, but they also serve as instructors and role models for peers and younger generations. CHCS’s senior centers are abounding with the faith, wisdom, fortitude, and love of their members.
Here are some examples from across CHCS this year:
Faith: Seniors have taught Bible study, prayed the rosary together, and celebrated Holy days by putting on pageants and performances for Christmas, Three Kings Day, and Easter. They are role models, not simply for aging, but for maintaining and growing in their love of the Lord.
Wisdom: Seniors continue to learn and to teach. They have visited the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, taken classes in diabetes management and fall prevention, learned how to avoid scams and prevent fires, and improved their confidence with technology through computer lessons. At the same time, they have continued to share their wisdom, instructing their peers in all manner of CHCS activities – jewelry-making, ceramics, sewing, crochet. They pass along their knowledge of history, whether personal history (e.g., in a presentation by the child of a Tuskegee Airman), Philadelphia history, or farther afield. They demonstrate healthy civic engagement, by volunteering in the centers and the community, and by voting and encouraging others to do likewise.
Fortitude: One of the most devastating effects of aging, exacerbated by the pandemic, is loneliness. Seniors overcome loneliness and depression simply by showing up at a senior center. Their presence and their invitations to others are a guiding light. Friendships formed at the centers often extend beyond center hours, and participants frequently check on one another and offer support. Together seniors help each other and younger generations to overcome much adversity.
Fun: Lest anyone think that CHCS centers are lacking fun, you may want to visit your nearest senior center. You will find spirited Bingo games, billiards, board games and much more. Seniors are working up a sweat with Line Dancing and Folk Dancing, showing off with fashion shows, joining in poetry slams and photography contests. With active advisory councils, center participants lead the way.
Love: Older adults have so much to offer, showing younger generations what is possible. One couple, members of one of the clubs of the Archdiocesan Senior Citizens Council, celebrated in 2022 the remarkable milestone of 80 years of marriage. What an amazing example! In our culture, in which relationships often seem as disposable as many material goods, isn’t it thrilling to know that such love exists and endures?
If you are under 60, look forward to growing older with anticipation rather than trepidation and look to today’s older generations for inspiration. If you are in your later years now, never let anyone count you out. You have the gifts of the Holy Spirit and you are in turn a gift to those around you, even in times of frailty. Happy Pentecost; Happy Older Americans Month.
Sheila Purello is the Assistant Director of Catholic Housing and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Learn more about at chcsphiladelphia.org.
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