DAILY CATHOLIC    WEDNESDAY     October 27, 1999     vol. 10, no. 205

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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"WE, THE YOUNG OVER 65 ... "

John Paul II's Letter to Elderly

        VATICAN CITY, OCT 26 (ZENIT).- Totally unexpectedly, John Paul II put pen to paper and wrote a Letter to the Elderly. This is a unique document in papal history, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls explained, at the opening of a press conference this morning; the Pope "has put much that is personal," in this Letter. On paper, is the heart and mind of an older person, but the spirit of youth. The text is full of personal touches: "As an older person myself, I have felt the desire to engage in a conversation with you." The letter explains how the third and fourth age can be an extraordinary time for the life of persons and the world, if lived in the light of faith. A dimension that offers new horizons toward the end of life.

        International Year of Elderly "I am 67 and I thank the Holy Father for this letter full of hope and meditation," Cardinal James Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said, when meeting with the press to publish the papal text.

        "With this letter, the Holy Father makes his 'first hand,' authoritative and affectionate contribution on the real meaning of old age, to this International Year of the Elderly, proclaimed by the United Nations as a preamble to the Jubilee. The end of life is full of color, if seen in the unending light of Christ," the U.S. Cardinal said. It is not accidental, that "the Holy Father concludes with good wishes for life," giving the elderly "the necessary push to continue on the road of life with hope," Cardinal Stafford said.

        Very Personal Testimony Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, explained that "the letter is striking testimony of the way the Pope lives and faces problems related to this stage of life. The Pope lives his old age with great naturalness. He is not afraid to show the limitations and frailty of age in front of everyone. He does nothing to camouflage them. When speaking to youth, he is not reluctant to admit "I am an old priest ... but service to the Gospel is not a matter of age." Thus, he continues to fulfill his mission as Peter's successor, looking far ahead, with the enthusiasm of the only incorruptible youth -- that of the spirit -- that this Pope maintains intact. Precisely in this letter, John Paul II speaks about this liberty of the spirit, describing it in relation to openness to the Absolute, as "the human spirit is always young, when it lives oriented to eternity."

        Charm of Age "Every age has its charm and tasks," the Polish Archbishop acknowledged, and old age offers the human person a unique opportunity "to understand better the meaning of life and attain 'wisdom of heart,' without hiding the more difficult aspects of this stage of life." "Faced with the mystery of death, only faith and confident abandonment in God's hands can give serenity to old age."

        Personal Touches "I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life!" the Pope says, who in no way detracts from the enjoyment of this life, "but ... places the future in the hands of divine goodness."

        The Pope considers life on earth "beautiful, despite its limitations and sufferings, which ought to be lived to its very end." From the Christian perspective, "the twilight of life can be seen as a 'passage,' a bridge between one life and another, between the fragile and uncertain joy of this earth, to that fullness of joy that the Lord holds in store for his faithful servants."

        John Paul II concludes his reflection with another personal revelation. "In this spirit, dear elderly brothers and sisters, as I encourage each of you to live with serenity the years that the Lord has granted you, I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter and as we await the arrival, now imminent, of the Third Millennium. Despite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God!" ZE99102605

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

October 27, 1999       volume 10, no. 205


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