Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
Ahead of the inaugural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly this past Sunday, the communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor described how the order cares for the elderly as people of inherent dignity and worth.
Sister Constance Veit, the communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, told EWTN News In Depth on July 23 how she and her sisters live “to assure the elderly that they’ll never be alone, they’ll never be abandoned.”
“First of all, we say to them, each of us says to them, ‘I will always be with you,’” she explained. “But then, we hope that our presence will be a reminder to them that God is always with them. It doesn’t stop with us, but our whole hope and our whole effort is to bring the presence of Christ to them.”
Sister Constance said she rejoiced over the first annual World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, instituted by Pope Francis on Sunday, the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne. She explained what the day meant for the elderly and for the Little Sisters, an order that runs homes worldwide for the elderly in need.
She defined the Little Sisters as an “international congregation” with homes for the elderly worldwide “where we welcome them into our home and they become family to us.”
“To see the elderly being honored and recognized in this way is a very deep joy for me,” Sr. Constance said during an interview with EWTN News In Depth on July 23. “It’s something I’ve noticed about Pope Francis’s pontificate from the beginning, how often he speaks about the elderly and how often he encourages young people to connect with their elders.”
She had the opportunity to thank the pope personally in 2015, when he visited the United States.
“I rehearsed all day what I was going to say to him, and what I said to him was to thank him for the attention that he’s bringing to the elderly,” she recalled.
She said that Pope Francis’ focus on the elderly touched her in a personal way.
“By my vocation, as the Little Sister of the Poor, I’ve given my life to the Church and to the elderly – specifically to the elderly – because that’s our sole apostolate.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor began in France in 1839, when the order’s founder, Saint Jeanne Jugan, offered her bed to an elderly woman who was blind and lying paralyzed in the cold. Today, the order serves in 30 countries, with 27 homes in the United States.
Because the sisters care for the low-income elderly, they trust in God for financial support. While many homes in the U.S. are eligible for Medicaid and might draw from other forms of income – such as pensions from the residents – that still “usually only covers about half of our expenses,” Sr. Constance said.
“For the rest, we have a tradition since the beginning of the congregation of going out into the community and begging for alms,” she said. Today, this is mostly accomplished through the mail or online, she said, but there are still sisters “who go out on a regular basis out into the community to markets, to businesses to ask for gifts in kind.”
These donations, she said, are “really what sustains us.”
According to Sr. Constance, God “always seems to come through” financially. But now, the sisters are facing a new challenge: the challenge “in the area of caregivers.”
“The ongoing challenge just, I would say pre-pandemic and let’s hope post-pandemic that it comes to an end, there is a certain amount of ageism in society,” Sr. Constance cautioned.
She noticed a shortage in healthcare workers and caregivers for the elderly.
“There are real shortages in the workforce, with geriatric-trained physicians, social workers, psychologists, nurses, all the way down to the level of nursing assistants, who are the real ones who do the bulk of the hands-on care in our homes,” she said.
While it’s a complex issue, she said that caregivers are “not recompensed enough” and “there aren’t incentives to go into geriatrics.”
“It’s not encouraged enough for people to choose eldercare as a profession, and so, increasingly, as the elderly population is growing and growing by leaps and bounds, it’s going to become more of a crisis, the lack of care of trained caregivers,” she said.
But the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly gave her hope.
“For me, I’m using it as an opportunity to raise people’s awareness of the gifts that the elderly can offer,” she said.
Pope Francis “has three key words with the elderly: dream, memory, and prayer,” Sr. Constance said, as she summarized the gifts that the elderly can contribute.
With “dream,” she said, “I think what he means by that is that the elderly still have a vision or a dream about what they wish for life, for society, for the world” and that they should “share that with young people, to inspire young people.”
And with memory, Sr. Constance stressed that the elderly can help young people “have a sense of history and memory” or “a memory to help them appreciate where we come from, how we got to where we are, the impact of events.”
The elderly can also change the world through prayer, she said.
“That is really beautiful because even an elderly person who’s living alone, who might be housebound, who might be isolated, they might not have direct contact with younger people, but they can always offer their prayers for the needs of the world,” Sr. Constance said.
“That’s what we tell our residents, particularly those who are very infirm,” she said: “they still have the opportunity to offer their sufferings and their sacrifices for the needs of the world.”