This year has been overwhelming, leaving many of us sad and anxious about what the future holds. In Pope Francis’ uplifting and practical new book “Let Us Dream” (written in collaboration with his biographer, Austen Ivereigh and published by Simon & Schuster, a ViacomCBS company), the preeminent spiritual leader explains why we must—and how we can—make the world safer, fairer, and healthier for all people now.
The following excerpt from “Let Us Dream” (available now) features reflections from Pope Francis on the toll the pandemic has taken on the elderly and ways we can all better serve these beloved members of our families and communities.
In every age people experience “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), a cry that goes up from the margins of society. If we discern in such a yearning a movement of God’s Spirit, it allows us to open up to that movement in thought and action, and so create a new future according to the spirit of the Beatitudes.
For example, one sad sign of our times is the exclusion and isolation of the elderly. A significant number of all Covid-19 deaths have been in elderly care homes. Those who died were vulnerable not just because of their age but because of the conditions in many of those homes: underfunded, neglected, dependent on a high turnover of poorly paid workers. I often went to such homes in Buenos Aires, where the caregivers do an amazing job in spite of so many obstacles. I remember once them telling me that many of the residents hadn’t been seen by their relatives in at least six months. The abandonment of the elderly is an enormous injustice.
Scripture tells us that the elderly are our roots, our source, our sustenance. The prophet Joel hears God’s promise to pour out His Spirit to renew His people: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). The future will be born from the conjunction of the young and the old. As Francisco Luis Bernárdez, an Argentine poet, puts it: “At the end of it all I’ve understood / that what on the tree flowers / lives from what is buried.”
A tree separated from its roots does not flower or fruit, but dries up. So here we have two ills with the same cause: the abandonment of the elderly deprived of the visions of the young, and the impoverishment of the young deprived of the dreams of the old; and a society that dries up, becomes fruitless, and sterile.
In the light of the Gospel and our Catholic social principles—solidarity, subsidiarity, option for the poor, universal destination of goods—it is impossible not to feel the need to put everything into overcoming that gap so that the generations encounter each other. How do we welcome the elderly back into families, restore their contact with the young? How do we give young people the roots so they can prophesy, that is, open spaces for themselves to grow in? Discernment comes in at this point: What does this mean for me and my family? What does this mean for our public policies? We might wonder the same about unemployed young people deprived of the chance to study, often drawn to the sad world of drugs.
We may feel a prompting of the Spirit to find out who are the lonely elderly nearby, and how with others I could offer them friendship. Or I might want to ensure that care homes are as much like families as possible, well funded and embedded in community. At a deeper level, we may wonder how we ended up in this situation, under pressure from jobs and families who convince people they cannot have the elderly living with them.
We see the reality, we discern, and we discover there a sign from God. We do not claim to have the answers, but applying the Gospel’s criteria and sensing the prompting of the Spirit, discernment allows us to hear the Lord’s invitation and to follow it. Our life becomes, as a result, richer and more prophetic, allowing us to respond with the depth that only the Holy Spirit can give us.
Excerpted from “Let Us Dream” by Pope Francis and Austen Ivereigh. Copyright © 2020 by Austen Ivereigh. The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of
Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
About The Authors
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, the son of Italian immigrants. He was ordained a priest in the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1969 and made a bishop in 1992. He became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was named a cardinal in 2001. In March 2013 he was elected Bishop of Rome, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church.
Austen Ivereigh is a writer, journalist, and commentator best known for two highly regarded biographies of Pope Francis: The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope and Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church.