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Celebrating our elders

  • June 9, 2023

If St. Clare’s Parish in Toronto’s Corso Italia neighbourhood didn’t put on coffee and bingo for seniors every other Thursday morning, Vicenza Divizio would miss it.

“I would miss talking with all the friends. We make a lot of friends,” said Divizio over coffee in the parish hall.

Divizio had come downstairs to the hall right after the 9 a.m. weekday Mass in English and Italian, along with about 30 other seniors — most of them Italian, all of them old friends. The group has been meeting for 20 years.

For Franga Romuldi the 55+ Club at St. Clare’s is an extension of her 50 years in the parish.

“Older people want to be with other people,” she said.

The bingo emerged gradually. When the group began meeting around the turn of the century, it was a continental breakfast enjoyed with a variety of speakers, said 55+ Club co-ordinator Rosa Simonetti. Rather than making the members sit and pay attention to just one person, bingo gives everybody a chance to float around and talk to their neighbours at different tables.

As a ministry, serving seniors simply makes a lot of sense, Simonetti said.

“It really is a community,” she said.

That the day begins with Mass is not trivial.

“I came here to give thanks to God,” said Stella Marblestein. “I’m trying to learn Italian too.”

June is Seniors Month in Ontario. It’s also the run-up to the third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, July 23. Pope Francis has linked this year’s celebration of elders with World Youth Day in Lisbon Aug. 1-6, drawing attention to how a pregnant, teenaged Mary rushed off to help her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who was miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist. From that Gospel story, Pope Francis has chosen the quote “His mercy is from age to age” (Lk. 1:50) as the key to this year’s World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

For the Church in Canada, ministry to the elderly is the demographic writing on the wall. More seniors will equal more seniors’ ministry. As of the 2021 census, 19 per cent of Canadians were above the age of 65. By 2030 the proportion of seniors in the Canadian population will increase to 22.5 per cent. More than a quarter of Canadians will be seniors by 2068, according to Statistics Canada.

If the actuarial tables were not enough, COVID revealed to Canadians serious gaps in how seniors are cared for. Shocking and disgraceful neglect of seniors in some nursing homes prompted Canada’s bishops to issue a July 1, 2020 pastoral letter to remind Catholics of their obligation to include the elderly in the life of the Church, rather than setting them aside in decaying institutions.

“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 bishops wrote in “They Still Bring Forth Fruit in Old Age: A Lesson on Caring in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

“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.”

The bishops point out that Jesus’ most cutting retort to the scribes and Pharisees who questioned his adherence to the law was to accuse them of using a legal loophole to dance around the fourth commandment to honour their fathers and mothers.

“You say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honour the father,” Jesus said. “So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites!” (Matt. 15:5-6).

Simonetti is no Pharisee, no scribe. Helping the senior’s of St. Clare parish is as natural to her as breathing.

“My spirit is Franciscan,” she said. “We’re here to help the poor, elderly, hurting, hungry… I didn’t realize how much work there was to do in the Church until I retired.”

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