BY HUW TWISTON DAVIES
POPE BENEDICT XVI told elderly people at St Peter’s Residence in Vauxhall, London, on Saturday that he came among them “not only as a father, but as a brother, who knows well the joys and the struggles that come with age”.
The Holy Father was greeted at the care home by Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, and Sister Marie Claire of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The Pope visited residents individually if they were too sick to leave their rooms and accepted a donation from 10 Catholic residential homes for overseas missionary work.
Sister Marie Claire then spoke of St Jeanne Jugan, the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor who was canonised last year.
The Holy Father then gave an address in which he emphasised his solidarity with the assembled residents, saying that “these times may well be among the most spiritually fruitful years of our lives”.
He said: “Our long years of life afford us the opportunity to appreciate both the beauty of God’s greatest gift to us, the gift of life, as well as the fragility of the human spirit. Those of us who live many years are given a marvellous chance to deepen our awareness of the mystery of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The Pope also encouraged people not to fear the difficulties of increasing age, saying that people “may enjoy good health in old age; but equally Christians should not be afraid to share in the suffering of Christ, if God wills that we struggle with infirmity”.
He recalled the illness of Pope John Paul II in the last years of his papacy, saying that his predecessor suffered “very publicly”.
“His cheerfulness and forebearance as he faced his final days were a remarkable and moving example to all of us who have to carry the burden of advancing years,” he said.
Pope Benedict also said the number of elderly people should be considered a “blessing” for society.
“Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it,” he said. “Indeed, the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much as an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude.” The Holy Father then individually blessed and spoke to each of the residents. He gave the residence a mosaic of St Peter and blessed everyone in Latin, thanking them and saying “May the Lord be with you”.
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