Cardinal: Sacraments Key in Caring for Elderly

Says Psychological Support Cannot Replace Spiritual Aid

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ROME, NOV. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Though providing psychological support to the elderly is important, nothing can replace the value of spiritual aid, and especially the benefit of the sacraments, said the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán made this affirmation when he concluded the 22nd international conference sponsored by his dicastery Nov. 15-17.

The pastoral care of the elderly was the main point of the conference, and the Eucharist, as viaticum, was considered the most important element of this pastoral attention.

Among the key points of the 40 sessions of the conference, emphasis was made on the growing number of elderly due to longer life expectancy. In this context, the development of geriatric science, “although good, is not completely sufficient,” the cardinal said in the synthesis.

Scripture

Conference participants considered the world of the elderly through the perspective of sacred Scripture. Above all, the cardinal explained, they underlined the respect owed to elderly persons, whose presence leads “to awaiting the time of the mercy and clemency of God."

The experts “considered the action of Christ in curing the sick as an anticipation of the Kingdom of God, or the resurrection,” Cardinal Lozano Barragán explained. He noted the consequent need for catechesis and Catholic education in order to transmit this message, including an explanation of the sacraments.

“Psychological resources in attending to the elderly sick should be taken into account, but should never be considered as substitutes for the sacraments,” the cardinal emphasized.

Family's role

Another conclusion, the cardinal noted, related to the necessity of “favoring the family as the natural place for aging.”

In addition, “in dioceses and parishes, there should be assistance for the sick, among whom are priests and religious as well,” added Cardinal Lozano Barragán. There should be “spiritual help, sacraments and prayer, for and with the elderly.”

Conference participants also emphasized the need to visit the elderly, a work of mercy in which one gives witness of fraternal charity and participates in the love of God “in an effective solidarity to overcome solitude," the cardinal explained.

Thus are fulfilled “the three ministries of the word, of sanctification and of communion, and also of helping the elderly not to lose their faith," he added.

The one who visits a sick or elderly person, the cardinal concluded, “represents the entire Christian community smiling and praying."