The Bible, in passages like Proverbs 16:31, glorifies old
"Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by a life that
But aging can bring physical and emotional challenges, and
churches are positioned to help seniors adjust to those
challenges, including end-of-life issues.
On Sept. 26, nearly 100 Catholic Charities parish liaisons
representing 41 parishes came to Our Lady of Good Counsel
Church in Vienna to share experiences and network on ways to
help the elderly in their parishes. The "Responsive Pastoral
Care of Older Adults" conference was also a way for Catholic
Charities staff to hear what kinds of services parishes need
to provide to their senior citizens.
The parish liaison network provides a partnership between
Catholic Charities and diocesan parishes to help ensure
effective services to the poor and to senior citizens.
Arlington diocesan Catholic Charities President Art Bennett
began the day with a prayer and introduced Gracie Ortiz,
program director at St. Martin de Porres Senior Center in
Alexandria, who gave an overview of the day.
Father Michael T. Orlowsky, pastor of St. Francis de Sales
Church in Kilmarnock, blessed prayer shawls provided by
Catholic Charities and offered them to anyone who knew
someone who was sick and could benefit from the blessed
Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Clare Hunter, director of
the Respect Life Office, gave a presentation on suffering and
other end-of-life issues.
Sister Clare first responded to what she said were incorrect
interpretations of statements made by Pope Francis on issues
such as abortion, homosexuality and contraception. He said
the church was "obsessed" with these issues.
She quoted the pope who said in an interview that appeared in
the Jesuit magazine America: "I see clearly that the thing
the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and
to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness,
proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.
It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has
high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You
have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything
else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. And you have to start
from the ground up."
Sister Clare spoke of the dignity of the human person and
that we are all created in God's image.
"The body is sacred, and it must be treated that way," she
There are three kinds of suffering: physical, emotional and
spiritual, said Sister Clare. Humans were not created to
suffer and die, but do, because of original sin. We are
redeemed from death and suffering through Jesus Christ.
Suffering is a reality of life, she said, and it creates
solidarity. She quoted Blessed John Paul II: "What is
revealed about the body through suffering is its openness to
the world in the form of vulnerability. This openness guides
us to solidarity with our fellow men; the body becomes a
place of communion by means of compassion."
There were copies of the Arlington and Richmond dioceses'
advanced medical directive in participants' packets and
Sister Clare reviewed some key elements.
There are terms that are used in the directive that are part
of Catholic moral teaching. Proportionate means are "measures
that provide a reasonable hope of benefit and do not impose
excessive burdens on the patient and family."
Nutrition and hydration are moral and obligatory
On the other hand, disproportionate means are measures that
do not offer reasonable hope or benefit and are a burden on
the family. These include measures that can cause harm or
undesirable side effects.
After Sister Clare's presentation, attendees broke into small
focus groups to share ideas on what works in their parish.
Some parishes feel the strain of the elderly more than
others. Father Orlowsky said that although St. Francis de
Sales is small, 80 percent of his parishioners are over 60.
Guadalupe Thompson, a volunteer at Holy Family Church in Dale
City, said she learned several new things from her focus
"It gave me some ideas for my parish," she said. "We need
more volunteers. We need to reach out to our parishioners."
Find out more
For info about Catholic Charities go to ccda.net. For copies
of the diocesan advanced medical directive go to