WASHINGTON (November 9, 1999) --The U.S. bishops affirm and challenge older people in a new document to be voted on at their annual Washington meeting, Nov. 15-18.
Titled "Blessings of Age," the document states that the United States faces "an unprecedented situation," where one in eight Americans -- 33.2 million -- is at least 65 and where by 2030 about 20 percent of the population will be over 65.
"Society still values youth over age, doing over being, individualism over the common good, and independence over interdependence," the document says. Because stereotypes about aging persist, new responses to aging are needed.
The statement was developed by the Bishops' Committee on the Laity in collaboration with the Committee on Women in the Church and Society. It coincides with the observance of 1999 as the U.N. International Year of Older Persons.
The bishops address older persons directly, calling them to holiness, wisdom, community, and service. They invite them to reflect on how their lives have had meaning. They also discuss losses in later life and note that older people often worry about becoming dependent on others.
"There is nothing wrong with being dependent on others...Do not fear asking for and accepting help," they say.
The bishops also reach out to those who have lost a spouse, stressing that the grieving process takes hard work, time and patience.
The statement urges older people to give something back to the Church and to the community.
"Older persons have a responsibility, commensurate with health, abilities, and other obligations, to undertake some form of service to others," they said. Intergenerational activities are especially encouraged, since they can promote understanding among generations.
"We warn against a society and a Church that, however unintentionally, pits young against old," the bishops said. "We do not believe that resources are so limited that the gains of one group come only through the losses of another group."
The bishops also reach out to the caregivers of older persons, who may experience a variety of emotions, including love, concern, resentment and frustration. They thank caregivers for theirs witness and pledge the Church's support. They also note that in some cases decisions must be made about moving a family member into a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
"This decision can be difficult and often produces feelings of guilt," the bishops say. "In situations where a parent's health and safety, or perhaps your own health, require a change in living arrangements, we urge you seek assistance with these matters and to let go of this unwarranted guilt."
The bishops offer foundational principles for parish ministry with older persons. They stress that older persons are not just recipients of pastoral care; they also care for others. "Far from draining parish resources, older people are themselves a valuable resource." they say.
The statement adds that "Aging is a gift to the entire faith community."
The approved statement will be put on the Web, Thursday afternoon, November 18, at www.nccbuscc.org/laity/blessings.
To order copies of Blessings of Age call USCC Publishing Services at 1-800-235-8722.
Note: Media who wish to receive the completed draft via e-mail can request it by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.