Pope Francis greets the elderly during the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, 2023  (Vatican Media)

By Sr Francine-Marie Cooper, ISSM

May 15 2024

In his Message for the Fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will take place on 28 July 2024, Pope Francis recognizes the situation of many elderly people today, and assures them: “God never abandons His children, never.”

“Do not cast me off in my old age” (cf. Ps 71:9): This sincere plea, taken from Psalm 71, is the theme of the Fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will take place on Jul 28, 2024.

Pope Francis chose the Theme for the Day, which is organised by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

In his Message for the Fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis reassured the addressees that “God never abandons His children, never.”

He referred to the elderly as “the firm foundation” on which “new” stones can rest, in order to join in erecting a spiritual edifice (cf. 1 Peter 2:5).”

Fear of loneliness

Both the “certainty of God’s closeness at every stage of life and the fear of abandonment, particularly in old age and in times of pain,” can be found in the Bible, Pope Francis writes. And these words “reflect an utterly evident reality.”

“All too often, loneliness is the bleak companion of our lives as elderly persons and grandparents.”

“All too often, loneliness is the bleak companion of our lives as elderly persons and grandparents,” Pope Francis acknowledges.

“There are many reasons for this loneliness,” the Pope continues, “in many places, above all in the poorer countries, the elderly find themselves alone because their children are forced to emigrate.”

He describes the situation of the elderly left in their war-torn countries as “the only signs of life in areas where abandonment and death seem to reign supreme.”

The Pope also decries the beliefs of some local cultures where the elderly “are suspected of using witchcraft to sap the vital energies of the young” and thus are blamed for blows of fate affecting the young.

He goes on to say that “this accusation that the elderly ‘rob the young of their future’ is nowadays present everywhere.  It appears under other guises even in the most advanced and modern societies.”

A conspiracy surrounding the life of the elderly

“The Psalm cited above,” the Pope writes, “speaks to a conspiracy surrounding the life of the elderly.”

And he explains, that the “abandonment of the elderly is not by chance or inevitable, but the fruit of decisions – political, economic, social and personal decisions – that fail to acknowledge the infinite dignity of each person, ‘beyond every circumstance, state or situation the person may ever encounter’.” 

“The passage from ‘us’ to ‘me’ is one of the most evident signs of our times.”

The Holy Father laments that “nowadays many women and men seek personal fulfilment in a life as independent as possible and detached from other people.” “The passage from ‘us’ to ‘me’ is one of the most evident signs of our times,” he writes.

“Solitude and abandonment have become recurrent elements in today’s social landscape,” the Pope admits. 

Following in Ruth’s footsteps

The Holy Father cites the story of Naomi from the Book of Ruth.

Naomi, who had grown old, urged her two daughters to leave her and return to their native towns and their homes. Naomi sees herself as a burden and considers it better to step aside.

One of her daughters does as the mother suggests. The other, Ruth, “does not leave Naomi’s side and, to her surprise, tells her: ‘Do not press me to leave you’ (Ruth 1:16),” the Holy Father writes. “Ruth is not afraid to challenge customs and inbred patterns of thought.”

The Holy Father’s Message concludes with an appeal: “In place of the self-centred attitude that leads to loneliness and abandonment, let us instead show the open heart and the joyful face of men and women who have the courage to say ‘I will not abandon you’, and to set out on a different path.”

And he conveys his blessing and prayers, “to all of you, dear grandparents and elderly persons, and to all those who are close to you.” – Vatican News