''Never as many as now, never as much risk of being discarded.'' A United Nations report has predicted that by 2050 there will be more people 60 and older than people under 15.

DRAWING on his own age to preach dignity. Pope Francis displays his own frailty to impart the respect for the elderly.

When Pope Francis landed in Canada, he lumbered out of a car, hobbled with difficulty to an awaiting wheelchair and froze as cameras captured an aide adjusting the pontiff's footrests.

On a makeshift stage outside an Indigenous cemetery in Alberta, the world watched as he gathered his strength and grasped the arms of the aide, who lifted him out of the wheelchair.

In LacSte. Anne, a remote lake said to have miraculous healing powers, hundreds of worshipers waiting for Francis in a shrine adorned with crutches and canes of people said to have been cured grasped in unison as the pope's wheelchair hit a snag and he lurched forward dangerously.

A Vatican video feed cut away. But the pope's appearance in public, despite frailty and advancing old age, was very much a point of his visit.

The pope's main mission in Canada was what he called a ''pilgrimage of penance'' to apologize to Indigenous people for the horrific abuses they had endured in church-run residential schools.

But it was also a pilgrimage of sencesense in which the pontiff, 85, used his own vulnerability to demand dignity for the aged in a world increasingly populated by them.

There needed to be built ''a future in which the elderly are not cast aside because, from a 'practical' standpoint, they are no longer useful,'' Francis said during Mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, one of the few events on a papal travel schedule lighter than usual. ''A future that is not indifferent to the need of the aged to be cared for and listened to,'' he added.

Francis, slowed by intestinal surgery last year and suffering from torn knee ligaments and sciatica, is not the first pope to make the dignity of the aged a central concern of his later papacy.

A senior Vatican official, Archbishop Vencenzo Paglia, president of the Pontiff Academy for Life, said during a recent interview that he had persuaded Francis to articulate a new church teaching on aging that was also ''proposed not with words but with the body'' because, he said ''the old can teach us that we all are, in reality, fragile.''

Archbishop Paglia said that advancements in longevity science and medicine had extended lives by decades and created a ''new population of old people.''

But that has also produced a contradiction, he added, because a society obsessed with living longer has not changed to accommodate those of advanced age, economically, politically or spiritually.

In the book On Heaven and Earth, ''Francis said that ignoring the needs of older people constituted '' covert euthanasia,'' and that aged often ''end up being stored away in a nursing home like an overcoat that is hung up in the closet during the summer.''

As pope, he appeared in a Netflix documentary about aging, and he has regularly denounced the way that older people are in a ''throwaway culture.''

In 2013, the year of his election, Francis used World Youth Day celebrations to honor older people.

In a 2014 pre-Easter ritual to underline his service to humanity, he washed and kissed the feet of older and disabled people in wheel chairs. Last year, he established an annual World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly to honor the ''forgotten''.

The Essay publishing, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Jason Horowitz.


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