The Vatican today publishes a letter from Pope John Paul II to the elderly. The 7,000-word letter is a personal reflection on age in the light of the new millennium and the UN Year of Older People 1999.
The Pope looks back over the 20th century, so much of which is remembered by older people. Recent history, he says, has been marked by war and violence, as well as by peace and freedom. He highlights "many positive signs" of hope for the next millennium: the growing appreciation of human rights and the dignity of women; inter-religious dialogue; the expansion of communications; ecological awareness; medical and scientific progress.
In the present day, the Pope says that older people ought to be esteemed and valued. He mentions the "horror" of euthanasia, which, he says, "is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God's law and an offence against the dignity of the human person".
The Pope emphasises the many ways that older people contribute to the Christian community and wider society by their experience and wisdom. He says that, in the ill health and loneliness that can come with old age, he shares their suffering. Reflecting on passages from the Bible, he then discusses death as the threshold to eternal life.
Towards the end of his letter, the Pope describes his own feelings after more than 20 years in office, and encourages older people to live life to the full:
"Despite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life.
For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to able to give
oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God!"
A copy of the Pope's Letter can be viewed at www.catholic-ew.org.uk