‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” Galatians 5:6

On 20 April, over 35 people from Devon and Cornwall came together at St Cuthbert Mayne in Launceston to pray and reflect on a Christian response to an ageing society and how Catholic Social Teaching should inform that response. The event was organised by Caritas Diocese of Plymouth in partnership with our SVP friends and hosted by Canon John Deeny and his parish.

The population in the Diocese of Plymouth is changing. An increasingly larger percentage of the population will be over 65 in the coming years. Many people are living longer and we can expect to see increasing numbers of people living into their 90s. For many, these additional years of life are a positive experience and older people make a huge contribution to social action in our parish and local communities. However some people will struggle with ill health, loneliness, bereavement and poverty in later life. Our older years are as much a time to expand our horizons as our earlier years and the Church has a role to play in challenging stereotypes of ageing and enabling people to continue to contribute and develop throughout life.

Caritas Diocese of Plymouth and SVP offered presentations about the challenges and opportunities of an ageing society and how can support parishes and groups to respond. The fundamental principle of the dignity of the human person should guide everything we do. We discussed the importance of actively going out to seek those in need and creating relationships of trust and encounter. Positive relationships created by parish pastoral groups can help create communities of care, where people look out for one another and where everyone’s gifts are used and valued. We acknowledged the importance of bringing together different groups in the parish to support people as well as working with other churches and groups of other faiths or none.

People shared positive experiences of taking action such as creating warm spaces, some of which have turned into permanent spaces of welcome; creating befriending groups visiting those who feel isolated and lonely; setting up intergenerational links between schools, parishes and care homes. They also discussed the barriers to reaching out, including the difficulties in identifying people who need support, the challenge in finding people who feel they can volunteer and the feeling by many that there is too much red tape and bureaucracy; the challenges of transport, particularly in rural areas. Participants discussed the need to find some creative ways to address these challenges as our population changes.

Caritas Diocese of Plymouth and SVP will reflect on the issues raised at the meeting, considering how we can address the barriers to action and encourage parish responses to our changing demographic.

Please get in touch with caritas@prcdtr.org.uk if this topic interests you and you would like to find out more.