Archbishop Celestino Migliore noted that more than 600 million people are older than 60 -- a number that could triple by 2050.
The fact that "people now live longer requires a rethinking of the role of the elderly in society and in the process of development, the archbishop said when addressing the Third Commission of the 60th session of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
Therefore, it would be appropriate "to create a wide range of opportunities to make use of the potential, experience and expertise of older persons," an "approach and attitude" that "will enable them both to remain connected to society and to continue to make a mark in the world, whether for volunteerism or work," the Holy See official said.
Moreover, "carving out a niche for the elderly starting from the simple and continued appreciation of their presence by their own family will prevent their stigmatization and exclusion," he said.
The Vatican's permanent observer emphasized the importance of "the availability of, and access to primary health care for older persons to be integrated within a larger process of development, with a focus on their specific medical needs and adequate nutrition."
Likewise, the archbishop reminded his listeners: "These processes might include a safety net where pensions and other schemes are inadequate.
"While it is true that social protection of the elderly is a main responsibility of the government and private institutions, the Holy See reaffirms the important role of the family in their comprehensive security, as well as in mental, physical and spiritual health."
Social security programs
"For its part," Archbishop Migliore continued, "the Holy See offers its support to older persons through various assistance programs. At present, Catholic agencies and organizations in every continent care for the aged in over 13,000 facilities, including more than 500 centers in Africa, 3,000 in the Americas, and 1,400 in Asia."
Reiterating that "the social security programs and medical benefits are essential," the prelate stressed the Vatican's position, which emphasizes the importance of "compassion, love, respect, appreciation and fondness for the elderly."
"We encourage governments to teach in schools these values with respect to the elderly, members of civil society to exercise them in the home and for such values to be continuously promoted in the media," the prelate said.
To underline his request, the archbishop noted the estimate of the "dramatic increase in the numbers of the elderly by 2050, […] both in developed and in developing countries," because of low population growth.