Did you know that the month of May is recognized nationally as Older Americans Month? Every president since John F. Kennedy has issued a proclamation designating a time to recognize the contributions of older citizens to our country.
Now, the definition of “older” keeps increasing in my mind with every birthday! But most government programs say that those of us between 60/65 and 100+ are Older Americans. We are certainly living longer. Statisticians have predicted that before 2020 the number of people on earth 65+ will surpass those under 5 years old for the first time in human history!
Most of the “older” folks in the Diocese of Providence continue to live full lives, working longer than we used to, keeping active, helping to raise grandchildren, caring for parents and spouses and staying involved.
So let’s say THANK YOU to all those folks who continue to make a difference, especially in our parishes: teaching religious education, lectoring at Mass, serving as auditors and trustees, singing in the choir and decorating for the holidays, volunteering in our Catholic schools.
And let’s not forget the growing, but equally important, work of ministering to those who can no longer show up at the door of the church. In close to 100 nursing facilities, 60 plus Assisted Living Residences, 13 hospitals and in countless homes, apartments and housing for the elderly, older folks are facing temporary or long-term limitations. Their ability to attend Mass, receive Communion, or go to confession is curtailed by a lack of transportation, lack of mobility, or the results of illness and infirmity.
For many years I had the privilege of bringing Communion to a nursing facility within the boundaries of my parish. The residents were mostly very old and many were unable to communicate. And yet, I was regularly humbled by the attempts to make the sign of the cross as a response to my greeting, “The Lord be with you.” For those able to receive Communion, tears of thanks were not uncommon. I know that among the folks I visited were the folks who canvassed their neighborhoods year after year, collecting for Catholic Charities. They were among those who raised funds to build our Catholic Schools, saw that their children went to Mass and CCD, coached the CYO basketball teams and served lovingly, for years, as caregivers to family members.
Let us not let their fine example be lost to us because we no longer see them at Mass. We are served today by the diocese they built and supported through their love, hard work and sacrifice. It is our privilege to minister to them at the end of a life well-lived.
Kathy McKeon is the Diocesan Supervisor for Catholic Social Services and a former Assistant Director of the State Department of Elderly Affairs.