The Holy Father visited a home for the elderly in London's Vauxhall area on Saturday afternoon. In his remarks, Pope Benedict referred to the growing population of elderly in the world as "a blessing for society." He said that their care should be more a "repayment of a debt of gratitude" than a mere "act of generosity."
He met with individuals both in the institution's chapel and the theater. Lauding the Church's work in respecting and caring for the elderly, he told his audience of residents and caretakers that blessings are bestowed on those who keep the commandment to "honor your father and mother."
"God wills a proper respect for the dignity and worth, the health and well-being of the elderly and, through her charitable institutions in Britain and beyond, the Church seeks to fulfill the Lord’s command to respect life, regardless of age or circumstances," he stated.
He spoke of life as "a unique gift from conception until natural death" and said that "it is God's alone to give and to take."
These words are a strong witness in the U.K., where the legalization of euthanasia has significant support.
"One may enjoy good health in old age," continued the Pope, "but equally Christians should not be afraid to share in the suffering of Christ, if God wills that we struggle with infirmity."
He spoke of the case of the suffering of Pope John Paul II late in life, saying that "(i)t was clear to all of us that he did so in union with the sufferings of our Savior." His "cheerfulness and forbearance" in that time was a "remarkable and moving example" to all elderly.
The Pope went on to refer to himself "not only as a father, but also as a brother who knows well the joys and the struggles that come with age." He noted that long life allows the "marvelous chance to deepen our awareness of the mystery of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."
While the physical condition can deteriorate compromised, the late years of one's life "may well be among the most spiritually fruitful years of our lives," he said. They can be years to remember loved ones in prayer and offer a lifetime of experiences to God.
"This," Benedict XVI concluded, "will surely be a great spiritual comfort and enable us to discover anew his love and goodness all the days of our life."