Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 1999
A day of compassion for the elderly
Church service, visits with those who've lost autonomy show that we care
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil spent over two hours May 20 chatting with residents of the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.
That was the archbishop's way of marking the National Day of Compassion toward the older person with loss of autonomy.
All across Canada bishops and priests honoured the elderly in similar ways. After all, it was the Canadian bishops at their 1998 plenary meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., who first called for a national day of compassion as a way of acknowledging those older persons who are losing their autonomy.
Mayors of more than 50 cities, including Edmonton, churches, political leaders and heads of corporations answered the bishops' call, declaring May 20 Day of Compassion in recognition of dependent seniors who suffer a loss of personal freedom, mobility and other hardships.
"This day of recognition would be a concrete way of proclaiming the dignity of the elderly as well as our respect for older persons and in a special way for those among them who suffer from particular problems or physical challenges that prevent them from being fully autonomous in their daily lives," CCCB president Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte said in a letter to Flora MacDonald, co-chair of the Canadian Committee for the International Year of Older Persons.
"The dependence that many older persons are facing is a challenge not only to the Church but all society," Turcotte said.
"Such dependence can cause serious suffering among many of the elderly. They may feel useless, suffer from lack of recognition or experience feelings of isolation, emptiness and exclusion.
"From the eyes of faith, it is not an exaggeration to say that these persons are experiencing a new form of poverty."
Edmonton Christians of all denominations marked the day with a prayer service at All Saints Anglican Cathedral. About 300 people, including local politicians and Church representatives, attended the 90-minute event.
Aware that many of the 300 residents at the Edmonton General would not be able to attend the evening service because of their lack of autonomy, chaplain Irene Aman decided to invite "persons with autonomy" to speak with them.
Most guests were people in positions of power. Aman's goal was to have those "who have voice and power listen to those who are voiceless and powerless."
It worked. About 20 members of the board of Caritas and other dignitaries dropped by the General to chat with the residents. Archbishop MacNeil visited with four residents, giving each resident at least 30 minutes of his time.
The WCR was not permitted to listen to the conversations.
"It's important that we recognize their dignity. It's too easy for us to put people away in institutions and forget them," the archbishop said as he headed for his first visit. "This is just to recognize that they are still very important."
The world population is aging rapidly. Over the next few years, the average lifespan worldwide will increase by almost 20 years. At the same time, the proportion of older persons (defined by the United Nations as 60 and over) will increase from one in 14 to one in four.
Canada's seniors population is among the fastest growing in the world. Our senior population, which today makes up 12 per cent of Canadians, will account for close to 23 per cent of all Canadians by the year 2041.