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Holy Thursday: Pope Francis highlights the dignity and value of elderly and disabled people

(Vatican Radio) On the afternoon of Holy Thursday, Pope Francis has chosen to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper at a Centre for aged and disabled people.

The Don Gnocchi Centre is in Rome’s Casal del Marmo area, close to the Youth Detention Center where the Pope washed the feet of young prison inmates last year during this same Holy Thursday ceremony, shortly after becoming Pope.

Twelve – the number of the Apostles – elderly and disabled people will celebrate the “In Coena Domini Mass” together with Pope Francis, who will kneel to wash their feet in a gesture of humility, recognition and respect.

Silvia Stefanoni, Deputy CEO and Director of Policy and Programmes at HelpAge International told Vatican Radio’s Linda Bodoni that it is time society woke up to the urgency of addressing the needs of an aging population…

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Silvia Stefanoni says she received the news of Pope Francis’s choice to celebrate the day meeting this particular group of people who are often excluded or hidden from society with delight: “I think he himself said that society tends to hide fragility – I think he said physical fragility, but of course it also mental fragility”.

The gesture – she says - will bring to light the issues that society needs to address in terms of ensuring that all people with some form of disadvantage or vulnerability are not “hidden” away but are brought into society where they can actively participate – whatever their conditions may be.

Stefanoni says she thinks that if this event resonates through the media “it will illustrate the difficulties that people in later life, when issues of disability and sometimes issues like alzheimers, dementia etc, create a special situation that needs to be addressed”. People should be given the possibility to make decisions regarding how they want to be supported and conduct their lives, how they want to be cared for she said.

“So it is giving a voice, its showing respect for their dignity” highlighting the fact that care must be provided with these values in mind.

Stefanoni says that we know very well when these situations are hidden “situations of potential abuse and violence do emerge, and we know very well that this does not only happen in institutions but also within the family”.

Stefanoni points out that we are coming up – on June 15 – to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, highlighting issues that perhaps are still not well understood but that need to be brought to light.

She also speaks of the potential of elder people in society saying that “while addressing the issues connected to vulnerabilities in old age and in later life, will allow those people to fully participate and contribute to society”.

“It is clear that older people are major contributors to their societies, not only in terms of transfer of knowledge” but also in caring for other elderly people or caring for younger generations… playing an essential role in many circumstances.

Stefanoni says “we can also see that many elderly people continue to be active socially and economically unless barriers or difficulties are put in front of them: “so we need to make sure those barriers are removed to ensure the contribution older people can make is fulfilled.

All this – she concludes – “especially in an age in which all societies across the globe are going towards a growing number of people in old age. Perhaps we should call the future the ‘Era of Long Life’ where the majority of children today will live into their hundreds. So we need to address and ensure that we make full potential of human beings across the age groups”.