CIESIELSKI: Re-energizing the Church through the vocation of older adults

October 25, 2022

Who could imagine a tree with healthy branches and fruit without healthy roots? Pope Francis, in his recent series of weekly talks, portrays the Church community as a tree with older adults serving as the roots that sustain the quality of life found in the branches and fruit. The wisdom that the Holy Father imparts is that only by attending to the care of the roots, namely older adults, can the fruitfulness of the tree be maintained.

He focuses on the vocation of the elderly, being one who bears witness to their faith and wisdom for future generations. In turn, he calls the Church community to support the pastoral care of older adults.

Aging presents both opportunities and challenges for parish communities. By way of opportunities, parishes are called to recognize and celebrate older adults as gifts to their community.

Older adults offer an incredible source of strength, wisdom and resilient faith to the lifeblood of the parish. Having weathered the storms of life, they know the meaning of perseverance, patience, forgiveness, generosity, commitment and self-sacrifice.

Pope Francis envisions parish communities fostering intergenerational exchanges to produce a fountain of life sustained by the joy and enthusiasm of youth and the authenticity, tenderness and wisdom of the elderly.

The Holy Father has encouraged parish communities to allocate appropriate resources for the greater inclusion of older adults in community life. Because older adults have successfully navigated the ups and downs of life, they possess personal, professional and spiritual resources and experiences that can guide and strengthen the Church community. So many seniors are waiting to be asked to contribute their knowledge and gifts to the well-being of parish life.

The challenges for parishes involve facing an increasingly aging population of older adults, which requires pastoral care to sustain their dignity as they age. Because their needs are very different from other generations, parishes will need to re-envision how they can provide pastoral care through a principle of interdependence.

This is where parish communities can provide thoughtful pastoral care and intentional practices which promote the generation’s care for each other.

  • Think of seniors as mentors for young adults, sponsors for youth retreats, and coaches for married couples.
  • Think of youth as friendly (supervised) visitors with seniors, families as respite caregivers, parish organizations offering transportation to the church, the grocery store, and doctor visits.
  • Think of parishes offering educational and referral services to essential community providers for aging in place, memory care, caregiving, and end-of-life planning.

The Office of Aging can assist parishes with educational and formational resources to support their parishes in this endeavor. Working in partnership with parish leaders and their older adults, parish communities will be both enriched by the gifts of older adults and prepared to provide pastoral responses to the challenges that accompany aging.

For more information, contact the Office of Aging at 713-741-8712. View their webpage for resources on caregiving, aging-in-place, and end-of-life care planning at †

Mark Ciesielski is the director of the Office of Aging. 

(File photo by James Ramos/Herald)