Pope Francis’s public message this past week urging us to honour, serve and show love for the elderly was a moving address and one that is pertinent to Australian culture and practice.
Although an examination of our role in honouring and caring for our own fathers and mothers in their older years as the Commandments insist, it also calls us to honour those who have gone before us. We must return the love that we were gifted by the generations before us, back to the elderly who need the dignity of that love during a time of sometimes great mental and physical challenge.
When considered, it urges a deeper reflection of our own attitudes towards the fragility of old age, as well as that of our society. How are we preserving the dignity of not just our own parents, but contributing to the wellbeing of all those aging? How are we building a society that supports humans through the spiritual and physical battles that can manifest during these times?
Asking these questions goes right to the heart of answering how Australians collectively value human life.
With a looming federal election, it is a fitting time to contemplate these matters. When deciding how to cast our vote as Catholics we should consider, among other issues, aged care and palliative care.
Aged care, as part of the healing ministry of Jesus, is about more than just putting a roof over someone’s head and ensuring three meals a day are provided. It’s about walking this journey with them, in care and compassion.
Just as palliative care is about so much more than how you die, it’s also about how you live during that time; fulfilled, supported, and safe.
Despite the incredible work done by Catholic health and aged care providers, particularly during a difficult two years of the pandemic, the Royal Commission into aged care found so much work is still to be done. We can only achieve so much with the existing resources, policies and practices and that is why significant reform is overdue. This includes building a valued, qualified, and properly remunerated workforce, which is recognised as essential to quality care for the elderly.
With the introduction of assisted dying laws across the country, it is also an important time to be building what Pope Francis calls a “civilisation of love”. Despite the comparatively affluent position of many Australians, there remains in many areas of our society a deep emptiness, fear, and loneliness as we age, that financial stability alone cannot remedy.
All this means both the pressures and the purpose of our mission in administering care as Catholics is so essential.
As we draw closer to the federal election, Catholic Health Australia is leading a campaign to urge concrete, realistic commitments by the major parties to properly support aged care in Australia.
As Catholics, it’s important that we remind political candidates of their responsibilities to the aged and palliative care sector and clarify how they intend to lead their communities and colleagues to better serve the ageing as a society.
And while we await confirmation of which government, we may continue these conversations with, Pope Francis has some practical advice; we must ensure our children know the elderly. Let them see the ageing process and know that they are on this earth, as a now ageing body made their life possible.
Because how we serve them, reflects on how we value life. As Pope Francis says in his message, what dishonours the elderly, dishonours all of us.
Brigid Meney is the Director of Mission & Strategy at Catholic Health Australia, the largest not for profit grouping of health and aged care services in Australia.