At a press conference today, located in the Holy See Press Office, the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care addressed the theme of its annual conference: “Pastoral care in the cure of sick elderly people.” The prelates discussed how the conference will address ways to care for the elderly spiritually, biomedically and socio-politically.
"In the world today," said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, "there are 390 million people over the age of 65 and it is expected their numbers will increase to 800 million by the year 2025. Five hundred million people live in countries with a life expectancy that exceeds 60, while 50 million people live in countries where the expectancy does not exceed 45. Sierra Leone in Africa, for example, has an expectancy of 39 years."
Faced with statistics such as these, said the cardinal, "we asked ourselves how can we offer better pastoral assistance to these people, given the great importance of life in its final stages?"
During the forthcoming conference, said the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, experts from 20 countries will analyze the demographic situation, and the main illnesses, both old and new, in the context of globalization, as well as the origins of such illnesses from an individual, technological, scientific, socio-political and ecological viewpoint.
Another aspect due to be studied, said Cardinal Lozano, is care for the sick in the light of Sacred Scripture, of the writings of the Church Fathers and of the history of the Church.
The conference will also include reflections on this form of pastoral care from the standpoints of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and of contemporary post-modern culture.
Participants will also debate the steps that must be taken in the pastoral care of sick elderly people from the religious (catechesis, education in the faith, Sacraments) and biomedical (research, drugs, nutrition, lifestyle) perspectives. In socio-political terms, they will consider how to tackle this theme through the mass media, and examine national and international healthcare systems, economic, scientific and technological resources, nutritional policies and public health.
Finally, Cardinal Lozano indicated that the question will also be considered from the point of view of families and the attitude they should assume towards their sick and elderly members, with particular emphasis on the spiritual attention that must be offered to them especially through the Sacraments, prayer and visits.