Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations,
at the Eighth Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing
Item (5):Measures to enhance the contribution
of Older Persons to Social Development
New York, 5-7 July 2017

Mr. Chair,

The Holy See avails itself of this Eighth Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing to renew its commitment to promoting the respect for the inherent dignity of the elderly.

As the world’s aged and ageing population grows rapidly, both in actual numbers and as a percentage of the world’s population, attention to ageing and elderly people is ever more critical. The need to develop concrete, practical measures to ensure that the human rights of the elderly are protected and their needs answered is an urgent priority. As Pope Francis has observed, “Thanks to the progress of medicine, lifespans have increased: but society has not ‘expanded’ to life! The number of elderly has multiplied, but our societies are not organized well enough to make room for them, with proper respect and practical consideration for their frailty and their dignity.”[1] My Delegation hopes that this session of the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing will further the efforts in advancing measures more responsive to the needs of the ageing and elderly persons.

Elders among us are disproportionately susceptible to poverty, ill health, disability, social isolation, violence, abandonment, abuse, and a lack of access to adequate food, dignified shelter, quality health care, reliable means of communication, and nourishing companionship. They also often bear the brunt of difficulties that arise from natural disasters, armed conflicts and financial crises, as their access to emergency services becomes limited by lesser mobility and other age-related factors. Special attention must be had, moreover, to the fact that among the elderly, there are those in greater need and who can easily fall into the cracks and are left further behind.

Mr. Chair,

My Delegation applauds the theme selected for this discussion, “Active Participation of older persons in development.” All too often, we see the elderly excluded from active participation in society and development, when the wisdom of years is truly, as Pope Francis has said, a “reservoir of wisdom for our people.”[2] Policies, practices and prejudices can marginalize elderly people who were once at the center of our families and communities. Our efforts this week should address this and ensure that, through better participation of the elderly in development and in the life of our communities, we can overcome what Pope Francis decried as “the shortcomings of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores its elderly.”[3] It is therefore imperative to work for policies and practices that enhance the active political participation of the elderly, their involvement in decision-making, their continued role as economic contributors, their extended participation in the labor market, their ability to enjoy a healthy secure retirement at an appropriate age, as well as access to continued training and lifelong education.

Mr. Chair,

A greater focus on the contribution of older persons to development should be combined with an enhanced attention to their needs. The elderly who live with illness, weakness, disability, isolation, or cognitive impairments may not be anymore in a position to contribute to development, yet they are in their greatest moment of need. It is in such circumstances that we must prove that our love and respect for the elderly and the impaired go beyond material, political and economic considerations; we respect and love them because they remain our absolute equals in human dignity, which is never diminished with diminished economic possibilities and physical abilities. The weakest of the elderly, Pope Francis fears, are “thrown away” by an attitude that says, “[t]hey aren’t needed, and what isn’t needed gets thrown away. What doesn’t produce is discarded.”[4]

We observe this in the abandonment and abuse of the elderly, the lack of financial resources allocated for their care, a lack of intergenerational solidarity, and a growing acceptance of euthanasia and other measures that target “consumers of services” but no longer contribute to wealth generation.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

1. Pope Francis. General Audience, 4 March 2015.
2. Pope Francis, General Audience, 4 March 2015.
3. Pope Francis, General Audience, 4 March 2015.
4. Pope Francis, Address of Pope Francis to the Sant’Egidio Community, 15 June 2014.