The Holy See
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(MADRID, 8-12 APRIL 2002)

Monday 8 April 2002

Mr. President
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have the honour of bringing to you a letter from His Holiness Pope John Paul II in which he responds to your invitation to participate in this Second World Assembly on Ageing.

This meeting deals with a matter that deeply concerns all of us. In fact, in the divine plan, longevity becomes the gift of the fulfilment of the life that receives meaning from the wisdom of the heart. Older persons are the guardians of the collective memory, they have the perspective of both the past and the future, living in a present that already takes on the sense of eternity and serenity. They do not contemplate themselves as passively waiting for a destructive event, rather they look to the promised forthcoming of the full maturity of a life that never ends. Their life must converge in intergenerational relationships transmitting to all people the treasury of their time, their capacity and experiences, in order to show authentic values in contrast to mere appearances. In the present culture of global productivity, they face the danger of considering themselves as not being useful, however their mere presence must prove that the economic aspect is neither the sole nor the most important value. Life itself is the greatest value in any of its stages, and most especially in the supreme gift of its culmination. The serenity of old age gives the world life and health, which are conceived as a physical, social and spiritual harmony.

According to statistics there are now 600 million people above the age of sixty years, and estimates show that the numbers may increase to as many as 2 billion by the year 2050. In the year 2030 it is estimated that 71% of this population will live in the developing countries and 12% to 16% in the rich countries. Although its better to grow old in ones own family, we find an increasing number of abandoned older persons. And so, the Catholic Church, now as before, tries to help them even in the economic aspect, regardless of the serious difficulty brought on by the insufficient resources and lack of personnel. In fact, Mr. President, Catholic agencies and organizations have at present 532 hospices in Africa, 3466 in America, 1456 in Asia, 7435 in Europe and 349 in Oceania; in total: 13,238 hospices for older persons in the whole world.

Facing the marginalization of the older persons in the present society and taking a perspective of the future, one sees the necessity of creating an inclusive society for all ages, which would have as a basis intergenerational equality, in which the older persons will have their place, especially women and the underprivileged.

To achieve this, The Holy See we would suggest the following basic actions within the family, the community and all of society:

Promote the intergenerational solidarity;
Involve the older persons in decision making at the family and social levels;
Ensure access of older persons to all basic social services, including health care, especially in rural areas;

Discussions with pharmaceutical companies in order to include older persons in their research and in providing medicaments at low prices, especially essential drugs;

  • Provide special care to older persons living with HIV/AIDS;

  • Assist those who care for children, grandchildren and other relatives especially those affected by HIV/AIDS;

  • Give special care to older persons who suffer from mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s;

  • Create legislation and strengthen existing legal measures to eliminate abuse;

  • Protect their dignity and life until its natural end by providing palliative care;

  • Promote a social and cultural understanding of the essential place the older persons have in the community, by developing educational curricula from the elementary to the professional level;

  • Introduce older persons to communication and information technology and help them to obtain and use the devices;

  • Help older persons maintain their self-sufficiency for as long as possible;

  • Enable them to understand and cope with the changes in society, especially regarding mobility;

  • Ease anxiety and alienation brought on by cultural or language barriers, especially regarding the movement of older persons through immigration;

  • Encourage a positive self image for older persons and overcome harmful stereotypes often provided by the mass media;

  • Promote intergenerational education in which older persons can interact with young people so that all might benefit from the interaction.

Mr. President, poverty and its accompanying problems can increase in old age, especially in emergency situations or situations of armed conflict. Social security systems and safety nets must be in place to protect the lives and well being of all people. The creative imaginations of older persons must be enabled, especially in the economic realm. The unpayable debt burden of developing countries must be eased for the eradication of poverty and so that social services might be provided to vulnerable populations, especially older persons. For the emigrant old persons, who face the difficulty of integration because of cultural and language barriers we need to create facilities that will help them overcome these obstacles. At the same time, the movement of peoples, migration and displacements have contributed to the disintegration of the family. As a result, too many older persons are left alone or are forced to take up responsibility of caring for children abandoned or separated from parents and homes. The international community must do all that it can in order to ease the burdens faced by older persons in all countries and all levels of society.

Mr. President, older persons must be seen as one of society’s treasures. It is the hope of the Holy See that the work of this Assembly will promote greater understanding and improve the lives of all older persons. Thank you, Mr. President.