Bishops in Canada, Spain remind Catholics of importance of the elderly

Martin Camacho becomes emotional as his wife is allowed to visit him in a Madrid nursing home in early June, the first day family visits resumed during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Susana Vera, Reuters)

Catholic bishops on two different sides of the Atlantic reminded Catholics of the enormous suffering of vulnerable peoples, but most especially the elderly, during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Canada, “the pandemic has prompted a renewed discussion about important changes needed in order to address both the present and future challenges facing our elderly who are already frail and compromised by the conditions in which they are forced to live,” said a July 14 statement by the Executive Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In Spain, the social affairs commission of the Spanish bishops’ conference warned against a split in generations and said: “In a society that frequently proclaims freedom without limits and truth, where excessive importance is attached to the young, the elderly help us value the essential and renounce the transitory.”

Canada’s bishops said that with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic came an awareness of the horrible situations in many nursing homes.

“That many elderly endured weeks practically in solitude to avoid contracting the virus even from caregivers, and that many died without either the presence of family members or the comfort and strength of the church’s sacraments and pastoral care is heartbreaking,” the bishops said.

“The numerous accounts of limited and even neglected bedside care and feeding, unattended sanitary and hygienic needs, inadequacies in living space and basic safety procedures also highlighted a chronic employment situation: too few staff, inadequately trained, poorly compensated, and many of whom were working in multiple institutions. Most upsetting and what has come to light is the admission that this situation already existed long before COVID-19 appeared on the horizon,” they added.

They also praised those who cared for the elderly during the pandemic.

“Their dedication and long hours of service were not always justly compensated, and their own needs, fatigue, stress, and mental health were too readily overlooked,” the bishops said.

Reminding Catholics of Pope Francis’ warning against a throwaway culture, they said, “The elderly are more often than not the primary victims of this culture of discarding.”

“As we slowly return to a more normal way of life, let us not forget the elderly among us who still have so much wisdom to impart, faith to share, stories to tell and joys to offer,” the bishops said. “Let us create space in our hearts, homes, families and communities to honor them and truly care for them in their weakness and their many needs.”

The Spanish bishops’ statement was a message for the church’s Day for the Elderly, celebrated July 26. The bishops said the country owes a “debt of gratitude” to the elderly and should “recognize everything they did for society and church.”

“Where there is no respect, recognition and honor for the elderly, there can be no future for the young,” they said.

They said older citizens had been worst-affected by COVID-19 and had also suffered most from “the drama of loneliness and distance from loved ones.”

“Aware of the elderly’s irreplaceable role, the church becomes a place where generations are called to share God’s plan of love,” the message added.

“This intergenerational exchange forces us to alter our gaze and learn to look to the future with them. The elderly are not just the past, but also the present and tomorrow of the church.”