VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis said the worst thing about growing old is not becoming weaker or infirm, but the "abandonment, the exclusion, the deprivation of love" in today's "throwaway culture."
The pope's remarks came in a written message sent to bioethicists, scientists, health care professionals, religious, theologians and other experts attending the Pontifical Academy for Life's Feb. 20-21 workshop on Aging and Disability.
"We have created a 'throwaway' culture" that is no longer about exploitation or oppression, but about treating people as "the outcasts, the 'leftovers.'"
The elderly are particularly affected by this trend of exclusion, especially if they are ill, disabled or vulnerable in other ways, the pope wrote.
In human relationships, the degree of dependence changes over the course of a person's life, especially at its early and later stages and during periods of illness or suffering, he said.
It's in the family that people learn that taking care of others is "a foundation of human existence," the pope wrote.
How families treat and care for their elders "becomes critical in order to reconfirm before all of society the importance of older people," the pope said.
Though older people may seem to "take without anything to give," he wrote, their experience "warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes."