The Catholic Church remembers the elderly and their precious place in the world| National Catholic Register
COMMENT: An aging world needs models of happiness and holiness in old age, such as Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth II, Sister Andrew and Juan Vincente.
In a world of prominent geriatrics leaders – Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth II, President Joe Biden – the second World Day of Grandparents and Older Persons offers prominent role models on how to age.
Pope Francis, 85, established the special day in 2021, to be held on the Sunday closest to July 26, the feast day of saints. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and therefore grandparents of Jesus.
This year, on the occasion of the World Day of Older Persons, Pope Francis is traveling to Canada to meet with the indigenous peoples of Canada. Their culture honors the elders and they have a special reverence for Sainte-Anne. The Holy Father will join their annual pilgrimage to Lac Sainte-Anne near Edmonton on Tuesday and visit the famous shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupré in Quebec on Thursday.
With Pope Francis now older than Saint John Paul II when he died, and with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 95, a decade older than that, Catholic leaders offer an example that very old age can remain fruitful, either active or in quiet retirement. . The head of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth II, 96, is another elderly religious leader, having celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this year. Likewise, last year Benoît celebrated his 70th birthday as a priest.
There are also Catholic models who are not eminent personalities. In fact, the world’s oldest man and woman are devout Catholics – perhaps suggesting that a faithful and devout life can bring the biblical blessing of length of days – and more!
The oldest person in the world is a French nun, Sister André. Born Lucile Randon in 1904, she is now 118 years old. Blind and partially deaf, she lives in a retirement home. While Sister André’s reporting focused on her enjoyment of chocolate and a daily glass of wine, a Guinness World Records video shows how she continues her prayer life. Those who take care of her lift her up and dress her in her habit and her blue veil. She is the oldest nun in the world, having entered religious life in 1944. Her sense of humor intact, she says she is open to retirement but that religious life does not really allow it.
Men tend to live shorter, so the oldest man in the world is only 113 years old. Juan Vicente Pérez Mora was born in Venezuela in 1909. His faith is at the center of his life, praying the Rosary twice a day.
Older people are often asked the secret to their longevity. His “secret” is simple: “Work hard, rest on vacation, go to bed early, drink a glass of aguardiente (a strong liquor made from sugar cane) every day, love God and always carry him in your heart.
Advances in nutrition and health care mean that large numbers of people are now living well beyond their “three twenty and ten, or eighty for those who are strong” (Psalm 90:10).
As Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth demonstrate, old age means accepting limitations, as both have had to cancel many public appearances lately. The Holy Father could not celebrate Holy Mass for the Easter Vigil or Pentecost Sunday, the two most important feasts of the year. The Queen was unable to attend her Platinum Jubilee ‘thanksgiving service’ at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
While the Queen now uses a cane in public, she obviously refuses to use a wheelchair, which would allow her to take part in public ceremonies requiring, for example, walking the length of a cathedral.
For his part, Pope Francis has accepted the use of a wheelchair in public, but has so far refused the accommodation built for Saint John Paul II, which allowed him to offer Mass at Saint Peter after that he was no longer able to walk or stand at the altar.
The Pope and Queen are undoubtedly frustrating those around them who wish to use what is available – just as millions of adult children are frustrated by their parents’ refusal to use a walker or wheelchair.
At the same time, this fiery spirit of resistance to accommodation likely contributes to longevity itself. Resignation to diminishment can invite, at some level, more of the same.
Whether resigned or resolute, an aging world needs models of happiness and holiness in old age, like the Holy Father and Queen Elizabeth, Sister André and Juan Vincente.
Pope Leo XIII died in office at 93, the oldest ever in office. On his 90th birthday, a toast was offered wishing him another 10 years so he could see 100. Leo playfully replied, “Why limit God’s providence?”
Providence is apparently decreeing that many more will complete the century or at least come close. The new World Day of Older Persons reminds us of this — and of their precious place in the world and in the Church.