Our society must not abandon the elderly

I was attending an event in the City Hotel which celebrated the 10th anniversary of an organisation which focused on the over-50s known as the COSY Club. The title COSY means Citizens of Senior Years and their motto is simple, ‘Friends for life’.

Usually the group meet two mornings a week and over the years strong friendships and bonds of support have developed amongst those who attend.

For many older people one of the biggest challenges they are confronted with is the experience of loneliness. Without close family and friends these men and women can become isolated in their homes.

I was involved in the formation of COSY ten years ago when I was newly arrived at Holy Family Parish. Thankfully through the hard work and dedication of members and volunteers COSY is going strong.

Speaking at the occasion Bishop Daly explained how he now drew from his own experiences of growing old. He described how he had arrived in the Bogside over 50 years ago as a young priest.

What impressed him most was the figure of the Derry grandmother who held sway in their household. Bishop Daly went to great lengths to explain how the older generation supported and bound together the successive generations.

One of the key relationships was that of grandparent and grandchild which developed under the protection of the family home. In these interactions grandparents passed on to their children and grandchildren the values, experience and knowledge which they had inherited from past generations.

This was in the days of close-knit communities and closer family ties.

Our world is a very different social reality from the one which our parents and grandparents thought familiar.

Speaking last week Pope Francis emphasized the importance of learning to respect human dignity, especially the dignity of children and the elderly. He began by noting John Paul II’s reference to the family as a community of persons.

The family “is the place where one learns to love, the natural centre of human life. It is made up of faces, of persons who love, talk, sacrifice for others and defend life, especially the most fragile, the weakest”.

Pope Francis called the family the engine of the world. Children and the elderly represent the two poles of life and also the most vulnerable, often the most forgotten. “A society that abandons children and marginalizes the elderly cuts off its roots and darkens its future. The Church that takes care of children and the elderly becomes the Mother of the generations of believers and, at the same time, serves human society so that a spirit of love and of solidarity will help all to rediscover the paternity and maternity of God. The secret of all this is Jesus’ presence in the family.”