Respecting our elders, changing our view of aging

Categories: Guest Views

It is time we prepare our communities for the rapid increase in older Minnesotans in the coming years

“Where the elderly are not honored, there is no future for the young.”
— Pope Francis speaking on the value of the elderly, March 4, 2015

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Father Ken Popp

The Diocese of St. Cloud includes communities, especially toward the western border of Minnesota, that are on the leading edge of the coming age wave. Visit the churches of these communities — or the downtowns, or the local restaurants — and you can see that a growing number of residents have been given the gift of long life. I am witnessing this daily in my two parishes, St. Joseph in Pierz and St. Michael in Buckman.

It is a good thing that more of us are living longer and better due to the miracles of modern medicine. That’s part of the reason for the growth in gray-haired residents. Another reason is the change in our local economies. Young people are moving elsewhere for career opportunities. But the biggest reason dates back to the middle of the last century: the birth of the baby boomers.

Finding solutions

As the boomers turn 65, our senior population in Minnesota will double. Think about that. How will we provide care for this huge increase in aging residents as they enter their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond? If we are part of that booming senior population, will we get the care we need?

I serve on the board of a local long-term care facility, and I know the struggles of finding and keeping talented caregivers and making ends meet with payments, from both state funding and private pay, that don’t reflect the true cost of care.

There is also a bigger moral struggle with how we as a modern society view aging. The number of people living long lives has increased, and while our community respects its elders, our larger culture’s value and respect for the elderly has decreased. Our culture celebrates youth and discounts the wisdom that comes with years and experience.

As Pope Francis said at World Youth Day in 2013, “A people has a future if it goes forward with both elements: with the young, who have the strength, and things move forward because they do the carrying; and with the elderly because they are the ones who give life’s wisdom.”

As Catholics, we believe that each person has inherent dignity, being created in the image and likeness of God. And yet, as our Holy Father says, we set elderly people aside as if they had nothing to offer us.

Answering pope’s call

It is time we prepare our communities for the rapid increase in older Minnesotans in the coming years. We must realize our responsibility to provide aging care to all people who need it, in ways that ensure quality and efficiency.

Most important, we must place a greater priority on caring for our elders and acknowledging the gifts that our aging brothers and sisters have to offer us all.
Pope Francis urges us to “reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities.”
Let’s come together as a community to answer his call!

Father Ken Popp is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Pierz and St. Michael Parish in Buckman.