29/09/05 Positive Ageing Week

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro Cathedral. 29th September 2005
Longevity is one of the characteristics of this generation, at least in the Western world.   For me longevity is a particular gift of God, which hopefully each individual can enjoy to the full and so realise his or her human potential to the full.
I do not like to hear stress on the problems of an ageing population.  As in other areas, when we get bogged down in the problems too quickly public opinion can be turned round to looking at the people concerned as the problem, rather than looking constructively at the very real challenges which those people, in our case, older people encounter and have to face.
I prefer to begin with a phrase which was very dear to Pope John Paul II: the subjectivity of every human person.  Every human person is a subject and has the right to be able to develop their talents and potential to the fullest possible in whatever situation they find themselves, even if that is partial dependence.  Those who become dependant never become the property of others.  They remain individual persons with their own talents, their own preferences, their own story and dreams.  
If we start out from this point of view of the older person as subject, rather than as an object for others to look after, then I think we will look as the problems in a different light.
        Being a subject requires having voice.  Age Action Ireland is an important platform which offers voice to people as they progress in life and face new challenges, but also new joys and a new fulfilment and wisdom their understanding of themselves as persons.
When I say persons I do not refer to individuals in isolation.  I refer also to the bonds of older people with their families, to their bonds of friendship and community. We need a community with a greater awareness of the potential and the contribution of older people and with a willingness to focus on how to release that potential.
Older people should see themselves as active participants in the community.  We also need communities which are more receptive to the particular needs of the elderly.  This means establishing policies which stress the ability of older people to be autonomous, and yet receive adequate care.  This means so many questions, ranging from facilitating older people in their contacts with their grandchildren and indeed great grandchildren to access to the highest possible standard of health care so that they can be as autonomous as possible for as long as possible, also where possible playing an active role in decisions concerning your own lives and communities.
 We also need communities which will be ever more sensitive to those who are gradually more and more housebound or who may need long-term residential care.   Here again it should be possible to ensure that old people who are in residential care are not rendered unduly passive, but should be able to participate in the lives of their families and communities as much as possible.
Nursing homes should be of the highest quality and there is need to ensure good inspection systems concerning the quality of care and the cost.  Inspections cannot on their own create that atmosphere of belonging which the old person wishes to feel in the weaker days.  There is also an urgent need to ensure suitable half way houses for older people whose families can only provide limited support especially on release from hospital.
Finally may I say a word about the role which older people can play in the Church?  In so many families today it is the grandparents who play a key role in the transmission of the faith to the coming generations.  Young people have an enormous admiration for the wisdom that their grandparents possess and a wonder for the fact that their lives span what seems to the young person as a mammoth period.
Be assured that your presence and participation in Church life is very important and that you should feel that you receive the best quality service from the Church, since you have provided the church with such great service and devotion throughout your lives.
I would hope that Parishes would take a new look at the place they give older people in the life of the parish community, following the model of Jesus who cared for all and removed the burdens of those who were sick or distressed. There are many good examples of community based services focussed around the parish.  I would be interested in hearing from older people about their special needs so that the Church in the Dublin diocese can respond more adequately.
My prayer is that we can all work together as a society and as a community to ensure that you can reap the reward of what you have brought to community in such a way that you can realise the words of the Gospel we have just heard, and through placing your trust in God you can live free from all anxiety, with trust in the Lord who knows all our needs, who cares for us individually and who accompanies us at every moment of our life.