July 26, 2013

At World Youth Day, pope honors the elderly

By RACHEL ZOLL / AP Religion Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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In this Thursday photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets with residents of the Varginha community in Rio de Janeiro. As a cardinal, Francis showed a special concern for the elderly that continues in his pontificate. But he's likely also aware of demographic trends in the church and society at large. The percentage of elderly is growing steadily around the globe, and caring for them is expected to become a major challenge.

AP file photo

Francis, along with other world leaders, has additional motivation for this concern.

By 2050, the number of people age 60 and over is predicted to exceed the number of people under age 15 worldwide for the first time in history, according to a U.N. report for the World Assembly on Aging. This change is occurring at different rates in more industrialized and less developed countries, but is expected to be irreversible, with major consequences for economic growth, housing, health care and more. Leaders across faith traditions are looking at the potential impact on their congregations and ministries.

Also, within the United States and in other Western countries, older Catholics are more active in the church and attend Mass at higher rates than young people.

In his comments today, the pope emphasized sharing faith among the generations. Today was the feast day of the Virgin Mary's parents, the grandparents of Jesus, Saints Joachim and Anne. It was also Grandparent's Day in many countries.

"How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society!" he said.

The pope could also be worried about himself, Portier said. Francis is 76 years old.

In "On Heaven and Earth," he acknowledged he had become a senior citizen and said he hoped to be "like a vintage wine, not one gone sour."

"The elderly are called to peace and tranquility," he said. "I ask for that grace for myself."

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