By Brian Dryden
OTTAWA, Canada, (Canadian Catholic News) — The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the “heartbreaking” neglect that many elderly Canadians and other vulnerable people have been facing in modern Canadian society, but that exposure can also be an opportunity for Catholics and other Canadians to reassess our “values and lifestyle” in a meaningful way, say Canada’s Catholic bishops.
“As we slowly return to a more normal way of life, let us not forget the elderly among us who still have so much wisdom to impart, faith to share, stories to tell and joys to offer,” the executive committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said in a statement released July 14.
“Let us create space in our hearts, homes, families and communities to honour them and truly care for them in their weakness and their many needs. Let us welcome their unique giftedness in building a world which is more human, loving, generous, forgiving and radiant with God’s grace,” said the pastoral message from the CCCB entitled “They still bring forth fruit in old age: A lesson on caring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The bishops say that the pandemic and its massive disruption of everyday life since March has exposed cracks within the social fabric of Canadian society. It caused “great suffering and enormous difficulties” for many vulnerable Canadians, but it is the “horrific” way in which many elderly Canadians, isolated in understaffed and under-resourced long-term care facilities, that is perhaps most “disturbing.”
Citing Pope Francis’ warning about modern “throwaway culture,” the bishops say that it is the elderly who are “more often than not the primary victims of this culture of discarding.”
According to a study released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information in June, 81 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada as of May 25 were in long-term care and nursing home facilities for the elderly. Those numbers haven’t changed much in the ensuing months.
“That many elderly endured weeks practically in solitude to avoid contracting the virus even from caregivers, and that many died without either the presence of family members or the comfort and strength of the Church’s sacraments and pastoral care is heartbreaking,” the bishops said.
“Most upsetting and what has come to light is the admission that this situation already existed long before COVID-19 appeared on the horizon.”
But the bishops say there is hope for change if the pandemic serves “as an important reminder of the inherent dignity of human life, its meaning and what should be most important in life.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a renewed discussion about important changes needed in order to address both the present and future challenges facing our elderly who are already frail and compromised by the conditions in which they are forced to live. Our hope is that Canadians will gain greater awareness as to how our culture prioritizes the freedom, desires and choice of individuals, and regrettably also tends to neglect the rights and responsibilities that promote the common good of society and the dignity of every person, especially the elderly,” adding that the impact of the global pandemic on the vulnerable in Canada “weighs heavily upon the collective conscience of both our country and Church.”
The message calls for Canadians and Catholics “to renew our sense of authentic solidarity and community by considering and treating others, especially the most vulnerable, the sick and the elderly as valued and precious members of our communities.”
“May Jesus Christ, the Lord of all mercy and goodness, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of families and Comforter of the afflicted, enlighten, inspire and protect us. May we be graced with a new awareness and appreciation of the gift which the elderly are to us all,” CCCB said.