BY H.E. MSGR. RENATO R. MARTINO
Monday, 7 October 2002
Earlier this year, on 12 April, the Holy See joined with other States in the adoption of the International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002. May I begin by once again thanking the Government and people of Spain for hosting this successful and very fruitful meeting.
During the course of the General Debate, held during the Assembly, a speaker stated that too many of the world's older persons were not aware of the fact that this meeting was taking place, and even more were unaware of the existence of the Vienna International Plan of Action, adopted in 1982.
The statement is most probably and unfortunately true. Too many people, especially older persons, are not aware of the work that has been done, and too many do not know that there is, indeed, a plan to help them to better realize their role in the societies in which they live, and the responsibilities that societies have in helping older persons fulfill those roles.
Under the heading of Future roles for the "United Nations program on ageing", the Report of the Secretary General provides a number of suggestions and recommendations. However, my Delegation believes that it does not go far enough in its recommendations on how the United Nations system might better help in the implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action.
In discussing development, we always hear of the importance of involving people in plans for implementation and action. It must be no different when we discuss the role of older persons. They too must be included as responsible agents in those decisions that will have an effect and impact upon their lives and future.
Taking the Plan of Action from words to reality requires communicating and informing. Older persons must be made aware of this Plan. The Second World Assembly was a moment in time but the outcome of that meeting, both the formal and informal, must be recognized as something that will develop as it guides and helps to enhance the lives, not only of the world's older persons but also the lives of all people as we all continue on that path to old age.
The Plan of Action must be translated into innovative programmes which help to bridge the vastness of the ageing process as well as put an end to any sort of marginalization that older persons might experience.
Facing marginalization of older persons in the present society and taking a perspective of the future, we must create an inclusive society for all ages, which will have as a basis intergenerational equality, in which the older persons must have their place.
One way to accomplish this is to strive toward the development of programs that help to expand understanding among and between generations. These intergenerational programs will go a long way in helping people of all generations share their expertise and experiences while also helping to appreciate those gifts in others.
In the discussion of moving from words to action, my Delegation would like to single out one example of how older persons can continue to play a role in society; the St Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and operated by the Sisters of St Francis of Assisi is just such an example. This center gathers persons of all ages and abilities in a healthy home-like setting and offers them a wide range of educational and therapeutic services, all based upon intergenerational interaction. Older persons share the facilities with children so that they might interact with them while the children have an opportunity to learn from and become comfortable in dealing with older persons.
The founding directress of the St Ann Center Sr Edna Lonergan, S.F., a member of the Delegation of the Holy See, had the opportunity to present, at the Madrid Assembly, the services that St Ann's provides to the old and the young. Many people made positive comments on this innovative and inspiring programme.
The Holy See offers this one example of what the Catholic Church, through its various agencies and local diocesan programs operate. In fact, my Delegation reports that worldwide, the Catholic Church, through its various agencies and local diocesan programmes operates more than thirteen thousand (13,238) homes, hospices and care institutions for older persons. At the same time, my Delegation realizes that the number of people served by these facilities is only a small percentage of those persons who have reached their 60th year.
The Holy See continues to support that action, following the direction of His Holiness Pope John Paul II: "... old age is even a time of grace which is an invitation to be united with a deeper love to Christ's saving mystery and to participate more profoundly in his plan of salvation. The Church looks with love and trust upon you elderly people, dedicating herself to encouraging the fulfilment of a human, social and spirit-ual context in which every person can live this important stage of his life fully and with dignity".
This helps us understand the importance of programs that touch each person in need, helping all older persons take their special place in society and helping society appreciate the treasure that older persons continue to be.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.