Pope John Paul II has urged the world show greater appreciation and care for older people. Writing to the Second World Assembly on Aging, being held in Spain this week, the Pope, who will be 82 next month, said he felt close to the elderly not "only out of pastoral concern, but also because of personal sharing in their condition." The letter, which was published today by the Vatican Press Office, asked: "How can the duration of an aging society be guaranteed, by consolidating the social security of elderly people and their quality of life?" "To answer this question one must not be guided primarily by economic criteria, but rather be inspired by solid moral principles," he said. Care for the elderly must include consideration of a person's dignity - "a dignity that does not lessen with the passing years and the deterioration of physical and psychic health," the Pope said. "Experience teaches that, when this positive view is lacking, it is easy to marginalize the elderly person and to relegate him to a loneliness tantamount to a real social death," he said. The Pope said that "to be credible and effective, the affirmation of the dignity of the elderly person calls for manifestation in policies geared to an equitable distribution of resources, so that all citizens, including the elderly, can benefit from them." It is an "arduous task," he adds, that "can only be realized by applying the principle of solidarity, by exchanges between the generations, by reciprocal assistance." "The elderly must not be regarded as a burden for society, but as a resource that can contribute to its well-being. It is not just about doing something for the elderly but also about accepting these persons as responsible collaborators, in ways that will make this really possible, as agents of shared projects, either in the phase of programming, or of dialogue and realization." The Holy Father suggested that such policies be complemented with formative programs geared to educating individuals for old age throughout their lives, focusing "not only on doing, but above all on being." He explained that this value allows for an appreciation of life "in all its facets and in the acceptance both of the possibilities as well as the limitations that life has." With this outlook, the Pope said, one can understand that in "particular moments of suffering and dependence, elderly people not only need to be cared for with the means offered by science and technology, but also supported with competence and love, so that they will not feel like a useless burden or, worse still, be led to desire and ask for death." In attaining this objective, a critical role is played by the "development of palliative medicine, the collaboration of volunteers, the involvement of families that for this reason must be helped to face their responsibility, and the humanization of social and health institutions that care for the elderly," the letter ends.
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