VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis today made a special appeal to Christians to remember and remain close to those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Speaking to faithful and pilgrims during the Wednesday general audience, on the 23rd World Day for Alzheimer’s, the pope invited all those present “to remember, with the solicitude of Mary and the tenderness of the Merciful Jesus, those who are affected by this disease and their families, so that they might feel our closeness.”
“Let us also pray for the people who remain beside the sick, able to grasp their needs — even the most imperceptible — because they see with eyes full of love,” he said.
The theme of this year’s World Day for Alzheimer’s is “Remember Me.”
Why are the elderly “thrown away”?
Over the course of his pontificate, Pope Francis has expressed repeated concern for the plight of the elderly, especially those who are “thrown away” by societies where the prevailing mentality dictates that ‘only the young can be useful and enjoy.’
“A culture of profit insists on casting off the old like a ‘weight’,” Pope Francis said last year during his series of catecheses on the family. “Not only do they not produce — this culture thinks — but they are a burden: in short, what is the outcome of thinking like this? They are thrown away.”
“It is brutal to see how the elderly are thrown away, it is a brutal thing, it is a sin! No one dares to say it openly, but it’s done!,” he said. “There is something vile in this adherence to the throw-away culture. But we are accustomed to throwing people away. We want to remove our growing fear of weakness and vulnerability; but by doing so we increase in the elderly the anxiety of being poorly tolerated and neglected.”
“How easily the conscience falls dormant when there is no love,” he said.
Neglecting one’s elderly parents is a “mortal sin”
Reflecting on his experiences in Buenos Aires in the same, March 4, 2015 catechesis, the pope recalled: “I remember, when I was visiting a retirement home, I spoke with each person and I frequently heard this: ‘How are you? And your children? Well, well. How many do you have? Many. And do they come to visit you?. Oh sure, yes, always, yes, they come. When was the last time they came?’ I remember an elderly woman who said to me: ‘Mmm, for Christmas.’ It was August! Eight months without being visited by her children, abandoned for eight months! This is called mortal sin, understand?”
He then told a story: “Once as a child, a grandmother told us the story of an old grandfather who got dirty while eating because he couldn’t easily bring the spoonful of soup to his mouth. And his son, that is, the father of the family, had decided to move him from the dinner table and set up a little table in the kitchen to eat alone, so he couldn’t be seen. In this way he wouldn’t make a bad impression when friends came over to lunch or dinner. A few days later, he came home and found his youngest child playing with some wood and a hammer and nails, he was making something there, he said: ‘What are you making? — I’m making a table, papa. — A table, why? — To have one for when you grow old, so that you can eat there.’ Children are more aware than we are!”
The Church that has always supported “a culture of closeness to the elderly, a disposition of warm and supportive companionship in this final phase of life,” Pope Francis observed. And she “cannot and does not want to conform to a mentality of impatience, and much less of indifference and contempt, towards old age.” Therefore, he said: “We must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elder feel like a living part of his community.”
“We old people are all a little fragile,” the pope admitted. “Some, however, are particularly weak, many are alone, and stricken by illness. Some depend on the indispensable care and attention of others. Are we going to take a step back? Abandon them to their fate? A society without closeness, where gratuity and affection without compensation — between strangers as well — is disappearing, is a perverse society,” he said.
“The Church, faithful to the Word of God, cannot tolerate such degeneration,” Pope Francis concluded. “A Christian community in which closeness and gratuity are no longer considered indispensable is a society which would lose her soul. Where there is no honor for the elderly, there is no future for the young.”