Lake Santa Ana, Canada. – When Pope Francis Landed in Canada this week, stumbled from a car on the tarmac, stood limp in a waiting wheelchair and motionless as cameras closely filmed the spectacle of an aide adjusting the pontiff’s legs.
On a makeshift stage outside an Indian cemetery in Alberta, the world watched as she gathered her strength and grasped the arms of an ally, who lifted her from her wheelchair.
In Lake Santa Ana, a remote lake famous for its miraculous healing powers, Hundreds of devotees wait for Francis in the sanctuary adorned with crutches and cane for the healedThey gasped in unison as Pope’s wheelchair broke down and leaned forward dangerously.
A Vatican video quickly cropped up. But seeing Francisco in his growing frailty and advanced age was a very important point in his journey.
While the pontiff’s primary mission to Canada was what he called a “pilgrimage of penance” to apologize to indigenous peoples for the horrific abuses committed in church-run residential schools, it was also an old age pilgrimage in which the 85-year-old The pontiff used his own weaknesses to demand respect for the elders in the elderly population.
We must “build a future in which the elderly are not abandoned because, from a “practical” point of view, they are no longer useful,” Francis said at a mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton (Alberta), among a few acts Much lighter than a typical Pope itinerary. “A future that is not indifferent to the need for the elderly to be cared for and listened to,” he said.
Francis, heavily, slowed down from a large bowel operation last year and suffering from torn knee ligaments and sciatica, is not the first pope to make the dignity of the elderly the central concern of his subsequent papacy. once strong John Paul II He spent his final years in a hump, devastated by Parkinson’s. For some, his illness heightened his spirituality and echoed the suffering of Christ on the cross.
For others, it was a dismal decline and raised questions about the rule of the Catholic Church. his successor, Benedict XVIHe cited his flagging energy as the reason for his resignation, a historic break with papal practice that has cast a shadow over Francis, and his physical decline.
quit “It hasn’t crossed my mind”Francis said in a recent interview before putting down his usual qualifications that his calculations could change if his deteriorating health prevented him from leading the church. Francis is consciously and tirelessly trying to reshape modern society to be more hospitable to the elderly.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Pontifical Life, a senior Vatican official, said in an interview that he had persuaded Francis to give a new church teaching on aging that was accompanied not only by the words “but with the body”.Because “the elderly can teach us that we are all really fragile”.
“Olding is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century”, said Pagliawho chairs a commission of the Italian Ministry of Health to improve health and social care for the elderly in Italy, one of the oldest populations in the world.
A United Nations report predicts that by 2050, people aged 60 and above will outnumber people under the age of 15.
Paglia said advances in longevity science and medicine extended lives by decades and created “a new population of older people.” But he said it also created a contradiction, Because a society obsessed with living longer had not changed to accommodate the elderly, not financially, not politically, not even spiritually.
Even before becoming Pope, at the age of 76, Francis pays special attention to the elderly. in the book above heaven and earthsaid that ignoring the health needs of the elderly constitutes “secret euthanasia” and that the elderly are often “kept like a coat hanging in a closet during the summer in a nursing home.”
As Pope, he appeared in a Netflix documentary on aging, and regularly denounces the way older people are treated like garbage in a “throwaway culture.”
In 2013, the year of his election, he used the World Youth Day celebrations to honor older people. In a 2014 pre-Easter ritual to underline his service to humanity, he washed and kissed the feet of elderly and disabled people in wheelchairs. In 2021, it established an annual World Grandparents and Elderly Day to honor the “forgotten”.
This happened during some of the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic and what Paglia said was a “Elderly Massacre” in an Italian nursing home that prompted his office to create a “new paradigm” on the care of the elderly.
This year, Francis has tried to shape that thinking with a series of catechesis, or religious instruction, on aging. According to the Vatican, through 15 speeches, three more are scheduled for August, has called the growing aging population the “true newcomers” in human history. “There were never as many people at risk of being rejected as there were until now,” he said.
He lamented a society in which the “absolute meaning of life” is monopolized by youth, while old age only represents its emptiness and loss.
He condemned a future in which technology, Enchanted by the “myth of eternal youth” and “death defeat”“Seeks to keep the body alive with drugs and cosmetics that delay, hide and erase aging.”
In speeches, Francis urged “not to hide the fragility of old age” for fear of loss of dignity. Fragility, he says, “has a lesson for all of us” and can bring about “inevitable” reforms in society, Because “marginalization of the elderly—both conceptual and practical—corrupts all seasons of life, not just old age.”
Francis promotes dialogue between young and old, defending the benefit of hearing history directly from those who live it. He has also said that spending time with the elderly forces people to slow down, turn off their phones and follow a dark clock.
“When you come home and have a grandparent or grandma who is probably no longer articulate or, I don’t know, has lost part of their ability to speak, and you live with them, you’re wasting your time. ” “, but this “waste of time” strengthens the human family. Exposure to decadence and fragility, Pope says, enriches young people. Reciprocally, “there is a gift in growing old, understood as sacrificing one’s self to care for others”.
Since his knee gave up, Francisco had to rely on the others, apparently reluctantly, at first. And while his speeches draw a lot from biblical figures, he also draws them from his own experiences. “You tell me; I have to get in a wheelchair, eh?” He said in a speech. “But things are like that, that’s life.”
If Francis still occasionally uses a cane (“I think I can do it,” he said of walking to greet reporters on a plane to Canada), it seems that he Recognized the advantages of wheelchairs. After addressing a massive Indigenous congregation at Edmonton Church, he took a real walk among believers who cheered him outside.
Given his joy in greeting believers, and his commitment to confess the past sins of his church, the possibility of resignation precipitated him. But retirement, though not necessarily on his mind.
In one of his teachings on aging in Rome, he spoke of making the most of retirement, especially when, because of the declining birth rates in many countries, there were fewer grandchildren to care for, and because adult children often moved away. Were. He said medical advances have created years of time to fill.
“Today I retire,” he said, putting himself in the place of a retired man. “And there are many years ahead of me, and what can I do in these years? how can i grow up?
Francisco, who has also spoken about the difficulty of leaving the role of “hero”, He has said that if he retires, he will become Bishop Emeritus of Rome, possibly reverting to his given name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.and to confess in the Basilica of Rome.
But for now, it’s clear he thinks he has a lot more to say and do, including a conciliator next month who will make a cardinal who will help choose his successor and the leadership of a church that still trying to change.
On Tuesday at Lake Santa Ana, his papal butler carried him to the shore of the lake, opened the soles of the pope’s feet so that his feet could touch the Holy Land, and stepped aside as Francis prayed alone.
Rochelle Nibb, 50, a Catholic from Cree Nation, stood a few feet away with her mother, Margaret, 74, who wore a bandage around her arm.
“In our culture, we give priority to our elders. The Pope does too,” Nibb said., saying that he saw in himself the faces of all the elders. “People are taking care of him, which is good,” he said. “I wish the same for my seniors.”