Bishops in DR Congo Announce Intention
to Boost Pastoral Care to Elderly Persons
Catholic Bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have, in their latest Pastoral Letter, announced their intention to enhance pastoral care to elderly persons.
In their letter circulated March 4, members of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) call on the people of God in the Central African nation to take the needs of senior citizens into account.
Making reference to the elderly in DRC, CENCO members “urge all members of the Church-Family of God to look after them with particular attention, according to the biblical recommendations and the values of the African Tradition.”
“The Church has always been at the side of the elderly. Far from considering this closeness as a simple matter of assistance and charity, the Magisterium has never ceased to recall the primordial importance of their person and their dignity, their role and their place in the Church and in society,” Catholic Bishops in DRC say in their letter issued following their February 22-25 Standing Committee meeting.
CENCO members’ announcement comes weeks after Pope Francis declared the establishment of an international day to honor grandparents and the elderly to take place annually on the fourth Sunday of July, close to the feast of the grandparents of Jesus, Saints Joachim and Anne.
This year, the occasion is to be marked on Sunday, July 25, a day the Holy Father is expected to preside over a special Eucharist celebration in honor of elderly persons across the globe, according to the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.
In their February 27 pastoral letter titled, “They still bear fruit in old age,” CENCO members express concerns about the situation of senior citizens globally and especially in the Central African nation.
“It is also sad to note that today, the dignity and place of the elderly in the world in general and in our country in particular are tending to change, the old social order is being overthrown. The social prestige enjoyed by elderly persons is being replaced by attitudes of rejection, exclusion, marginalization and abuse,” Catholic Bishops in DRC say.
They add, “Old age is perceived more in terms of illness, deficit, misery, impoverishment, crowding, burden and death.”
“After having suffered for the education of their children and family members, some elderly persons have found themselves at the end of their lives cut off from family relationships to live alone, on the streets or in boarding schools,” the members of CENCO say.
Many elderly persons facing difficulties in the DRC are exposed to begging and travelling long distances in search of food, the Bishops say and continue, “The most deplorable attitude is the rejection by family members of some elderly persons accused of practicing witchcraft.”
These attitudes towards elderly persons come from a narrow and erroneous conception of old age as a “period of uselessness, inefficiency, loss of fertility and creativity,” they explain.
Against this backdrop, the Bishops call for change of attitude toward elderly persons.
“We must love them, value them as daughters and sons of God by taking their needs into account and putting ourselves at their service through various works of charity,” they urge, adding, “We must do everything possible in our pastoral work to take their situation to heart and to make the most of their gifts and abilities so that their fruitfulness may be realized.”
The Bishops invite young people to “take a new look at old age. Love and respect the elderly by making a gesture of tenderness towards them, especially the most abandoned, in homes and residences, those who no longer see their loved ones.”
In their latest collective statement, CENCO members urge pastoral agents to “seek communion in the Church Body of Christ by involving all people and especially the elderly. Involve them in the transmission of the faith, in dialogue with young people and in the preservation of the roots of peoples.”
“All Catholic action groups, communities, associations and movements must include in their program (and) activities directed towards elderly persons and families,” the Bishops further urge in their pastoral letter.
They go on to “reassure elderly persons of our support and closeness to them and encourage them to make use of their abilities, talents and charisma.”
CENCO express their conviction that elderly persons “have a lot to give and they can still give a lot to the life of the Church-Family of God, which is in DR Congo and to our society.”
“May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Savior and of the Church, constantly support all the elderly and inspire them by her example of serenity in times of trial,” the members of CENCO implore in their collective letter in which they announce their intention to enhance pastoral care to elderly persons.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa