They are still bearing fruit in old age, still remaining fresh and green, to proclaim that Yahweh is righteous  (Ps 92:15-16)

God, we have heard with our own ears, our ancestors have told us of the deeds you performed in their days  (Ps 44:1)

A. Introduction

A precious heritage not to be wasted

1.  For our Institute our “elderly and infirm confreres are an incalculable treasure and a spiritual charge with their life of prayer and love for the mission” (CA 2003, 19). The elderly confreres are the “historical memory” of the Institute and the mission; the confreres who are unwell, with prayer and the offering up of their sufferings, make themselves intercessors for the mission.

2.  As we know the number of elderly and infirm confreres is on the rise in the Institute. This new situation calls upon every Circumscription to take care of them in order to make the quality of their lives better in all its different aspects: medical-health, communita­rian, spiritual and psychologi­cal.

3.  The Institute is the witness of the treasure which is every confrere. With recognition and gratitude it makes good use of the life-witness and service that the elderly and infirm offer us (cf. RL 15.2). Age and illness can and must be transfor­med into opportunities for human, missionary and spiritual growth.

B. Analysis of the situation

An opportunity to seize

4.  In the Institute today there are around three hundred confreres over 75 years of age, a third of whom find themselves back in their Circumscriptions of origin because of their need for care and assistance.

5.  Experience shows us that elderly confreres in large communities surrounded by the sick often tend to close in on themselves and lose their taste for life. A reflection is needed on the model of community and structure that responds best to the needs of the elderly confrere and what might help him to live this phase of his life in serenity and joy

6.  Given the variety of situations facing the confreres better tailored solutions have to be found: some confreres need continuous medical assistance in properly equipped centres, other are still able to offer a service in their Circumscriptions of origin or in the mission.

C. Working premises

To live the mission right to the end

7.  Our consecration to the mission for life is not linked to age or to efficiency but to our ‘being’. Therefore we remain missio­naries in all the phases of our life.

8.  Old age, if lived in openness to God and love for one’s neighbour, is a gift that brings renewal. The confrere who does not let himself be beaten by the infirmities and limits of old age continues to live the passion – joy, love and hope - for the mission.

8.1  The elderly confrere, while experiencing a limit on his activity, gives thanks to the Father recognising his goodness which has filled him with gifts and has made him a sign of God’s love in the world. Through the memory of a life lived, reflection and prayer deepen the value of the stage of life in which being with the Lord takes precedence over activity.

8.2  He lives the mission as a “hidden stone”, no longer in the “front line”, but equally missionary. After having given his services to God and the mission, God calls him to make a gift of himself.

8.3  He is called to configure himself to Christ who abandoned himself to the will of the Father in communion with suffering humanity. Soli­tude and suffering lived with Jesus acquire a meaning of salvation for us and for humanity.

8.4  Every day he rediscovers his usefulness: he helps the community, keeps alive his interest in the mission, communicates the wisdom acquired from life and becomes a sharer of hope and charity.

9.  Accepting the undeniable value of prayer and the offering of silence, those confreres who are still self-sufficient should be utilised in the pastoral context and involved in certain activities.

D. Planning Guidelines and Action Plan

10.  To accept old age with realism and serenity.

10.1  “Every Circumscription accompanies the elderly confreres with suitable initiatives so that they may live their old age serenely” (RF 526).

10.2  Every confrere at the threshold of 70 years of age should be given the option of doing a specific course – according to the possibilities and in collaboration also with other Institutes – to help him accept old age positively, integrating it into his missionary identity. This option should also be included in the renewal course.

10.3  Initiatives that employ the talents of elderly confreres should be promoted, encouraging them to take up activities that engage them (study, reading, hobbies, the computer, etc).

10.4  Every confrere, upon entering the phase of old age, should be invited to share his memories and missionary reflections recording them in written form.

11.  To make the most of the elderly in missionary service

11.1  An elderly or infirm confrere, if he so desires and his health permits, should remain in the Circumscription where he has been serving.

11.2  The presence of elderly confreres should be favoured in houses of formation, as a sign and testimony of a life consecrated to the mission.

11.3  Where possible and as an alternative to large communities of elderly confreres, small communities should be preferred with the possibility of offering a service to and contact with the people.

12.  Taking care of elderly and infirm confreres

12.1  Among the normal proposals for OGF, pointers should be given to all confreres to be more aware of and understanding towards our elderly and infirm confreres.

12.2  Yearly courses should be held for elderly and infirm confreres in the main centres where they stay (cf. RL 100.2).

12.3  Over the next six years, the GC, in collaboration with the continents, should oversee the setting up of continental centres for the infirm confreres particularly in Africa.

12.4  The GC, in dialogue with the Circumscriptions that have large centre for elderly confreres, should ensure the provision of personnel and prepare them for a specialised service of accompaniment. This service requires a specific attitude and proper training.

12.5  The rotation of personnel in care centres for elderly and infirm confreres should be among the priorities of the next six years. The GC should plan it appropriately ensuring that periods of service be respected and ordinarily not exceed five years.  

12.6  The collaboration of lay volunteers in caring for elderly and infirm confreres is already a very positive and much appreciated tradition. PCs should continue to favour and encourage it.

12.7  The relationship between the elderly/infirm and their families is to be encouraged.

12.8  After 50 years of age each confrere should undergo regular medical check-ups.