Long Live Elderly!

Contact
information

Office/person in charge:
Viva gli Anziani - Community of Sant’Egidio

Address:
Via di S. Gallicano, 25 00153 Rome - Italy

Email address:
info@vivaglianziani.it

Website/social media:

Since its beginning, the Community of Sant’Egidio has been close to the world of the elderly. Born in 1972, this friendship has continued faithfully through the years and has become the way that brought us deeply into the extensive and complex reality of the elderly.

Each Community of Egidio, either in the North or South of the world, has a predilection for the elderly: it shares their anxieties, lives, and faith. This experience has been an education for the human maturation of the Community of Sant’Egidio. The elderly are special friends. Solidarity with the elderly has played a considerable role in the history of the Community. It was not because the elderly were the first, the valuable ones, but precisely because they were among the poorest.

Living at the side of the elderly all these years had made a legacy of experience and sensitivity grow. This legacy, in its freshness, has been put to the service of many to build a culture of solidarity and welcome towards the elderly.

Being at the side of the elderly, sustaining and helping them leads to a sense of life that demands we do not waste our existence or squander our energies but rather we invest in humanity and solidarity. The elderly receive help from those who support them physically but they also give much in love, friendship, and meaning of life. It is a school of humanity.

What is it?

What is this initiative about?

The initiative was born from a long history of closeness with the elderly and the conviction that friendship between a young generation and an old one is possible, even though we had different tastes, cultures and way of expressing ourselves. We could offer them the most precious thing we had: friendship. As friends we could help, understand, listen to and support them.

Helping the elderly remain at home: defeating isolation

This is one of the main goal of our commitment with the elderly. In the large cities, isolation, decline of the average number of household members, are  factors that push for institutionalization. Therefore, a relevant aspect of the work of Long Live Elderly is supporting the families of the elderly trough closeness and an assistance network.

Visiting the elderly in a nursing home: helping humanize the life of a large institute

Living in a nursing home often means experiencing isolation and dereliction. The Community of Sant’Egidio is present in hundreds of this nursing homes in Italy, Europe and other continents. Here the members of the Community keep the elderly company, attend to their needs, offer them pastoral care. A friendly and attentive closeness helps the elderly to maintain a social life, it helps them not to lose those relationships that exist outside of the institution and to preserve the integrity of their personalities.

New solutions for living suggested by the Community of Sant’Egidio

There are some elderly who are no longer able to live in their own homes because they are not self-sufficient any more, because they lost their housings, because of poverty. Several projects of co-housing have been realized which gave birth to a manifold model of response to the needs of the elderly: cohabitation, flat share, Family Homes, sheltered housing.

All this is made possible by valuing local assets, such as neighbours, relatives, shopkeepers, etc. for the care of the elderly: it is a way of treasuring local lay communities.

Programme for active monitoring of over 80 years old population

The Programme Long Live Elderly began in Rome in 2004 aimed at reacting to the appalling increase of mortality during the exceptional heatwaves. It is now quite clear that such a mortality, far higher than normal, was due not only to the vulnerability of the elderly people, but also to the social isolation which affects the older part of the population.

A great number of people (neighbours, shopkeepers, caretakers, doctors, pharmacists, voluntary workers) have been involved by creating networks of informal assistance. In the course of time many of the elderly people have become themselves activists of the program. So, the widespread presence at the grassroots level achieved successful results in terms of improvement of old people’s quality of life as well as to build a social network from which the elderly have benefited together with many people who have been voluntarily involved in their care.

How does it help?

In what way does this initiative enhance the formation of the laity?

The presence of the elderly in our societies helps us understand that dependence, non-self-sufficiency, the limit, are not curses to be avoided at all costs, but common conditions of existence, even of the youngest. The elderly teach us that true suffering, the one to be afraid of, is not fragility, but the impossibility of loving and being loved. They witness the beauty of gratuitousness and the fact that “there is more joy in giving than in receiving”. For this reason, contact with the elderly should be encouraged at al levels, even in the educational paths of young people and young Christians.

Long Live Elderly involves hundreds of adolescents and young people who visit the elderly who live in institutions or who are alone in their own homes.

The elderly are teaachers of life, even when there seems to be little life left to live. Moreover they have the charism of making a family, of attracting to themselves young and not so young alike, with their weakness, with their need, with their free time from commitments. Thus, from the encounter between generations a new culture and a better world can be born. A world animated by that spirit which makes old people dream and fills everyone with visions. A spirit that changes history.

Why is it important?

Why is this initiative important for the training and advancement of the laity in your country?

The “change of epoch” of which Pope Francis often speaks and which presupposes an in-depth look in the long period, fully affects the complex and articulated world of the elderly. There is a new generation of elderly people who are slowly acquiring space on the public scene, who demand recognition and want to continue to be protagonists. We are faced with a new ferment that needs to be understood in depth and that fully involves the Church.

There is a need for a pastoral turning point, for attention and care towards the elderly on the part of Christian communities: to speak to their hearts so that an art of ageing may be affirmed “for others and not against others”. Every age needs conversion.

The programme Long Live Elderly  is not only directed to the encounter between the different generations and to the formation of young people who can take care of the questions of the weakest and build a society no longer dominated by the culture of waste, but at the same time it responds to the requests of the elderlies who want to put themselves at the service of others. There are thousands of elderlies who support the Long Live Elderly and draw from it a reason to invest “more life” for others and become witnesses of the Gospel.

Elderly people are a asset for the Church itself and for society as a whole if they know how to live this new opening of horizons in the seriousness of a renewed commitment to others and a new mission for a more human world.

How did it start

How was this initiative developed?

The bond of friendship between the Community of Sant’Egidio and many elderlies goes back to 1972. It has been holding until today thanks to the faithful care for those people and the attention for their problems.

Friendship was the way to penetrate the depths of the “continent” which is the condition of the elderly. We met our first old friends in the suburbs of Rome. They, unanimously, told us the story of a generation of people who had to struggle to meet their basic needs, who experienced emigration to get a decent job, who lived in a shanty town while they had waited decades to get a proper house.

Over time we realized that many elderly in many parts of the world had shared the same or similar experiences during the 20th Century. Although their bodies were sick and carried the scars of deprivation and hard work, they all wanted to live. Along with that desire to live a recurring question emerged: for what or for whom do I live for? Every man or woman, who feels he/she is getting old and outdated, marginalized and disregarded even by their close acquaintances, may ask him/herself or the people around the same question. After many years during which we have lived the solidarity with the elderly we can answer such questions: whom do I live for? Who cares about me? Life is always worth living when you have someone close to you. When old people are helped in the difficult moments of their lives, they rediscovered the reason to live.

It was a long story of friendship and companionship: it has changed our ideas but also the social environment that surrounded many elderly.

At the beginning of this history we didn’t know that a dramatic social transformation was occurring. It is called “demographic revolution”. Nowadays the number of the elderly is increasing. At that time we just became aware that the most serious “disease” of the elderly we met was loneliness. They needed friendship and support. That is why we begin to take care of them. We felt sympathy with them and their troubles right away. Filomena, Paolina, Nello are the names of some of them. Together with them and many others we wrote our history of Christian community. Thanks to them the “alliance” of the Community with the elderly has grown to what is today. Making us better and making the world, even if just a small piece of it, a better place as well.

Benefits

Does it benefit the laity on a national or local level?

The long Live Elderly programme by involving many people who care for the elderly builds a network of proximity that makes life in anonymous neighbourhoods and cities better and more human.

Around the home of a lonely old person, around the house where older people live, a network of people is created. This network of people who are committed to someone humanizes both the neighbourhood and the whole city inserting elements of a new culture of respect and care for life.

Visits to institutions and nursing homes for the elderly also make the institutions themselves more human and in a certain sense break down the walls that divide the institutions from the neighbourhoods where they are placed. In this way a positive exchange is generated between the institute and the neighbourhood which also involves parishes already engaged in pastoral care for the elderly in the institutes.

Means and funding

Who funds the initiative? What is needed to launch this initiative?

The activities of the Long Live Elderly are carried out mainly by volunteers; Long Live Elderly is also a non-profit project that receives help many times from volunteers.

As for the active monitoring, co-housing, flat sharing, family homes, protected housing programs, we need to rely on the financial support of local partners such as administrations, private donors and foundations.

To launch the initiative, it is necessary to gather a trusted group of people and involve them in visiting the elderly, understand their situation and supporting the elderly when is needed. To structure the programs mentioned above it is necessary to look for what is needed both in kind and in financial resources.

Learn more

Where can people learn more about this initiative?

People can learn more about the “Long Live Elderly” program by visiting our website: www.vivaglianziani.it. We also have social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Countries involved

Does this initiative exist in other countries?

The Long Live Elderly programme was born in Italy, in Rome, and then spread to many Italian and European cities, involving hundreds of thousands of elderly people and volunteers. Long Live Elderly has then spread to the Americas and more recently to Africa where the condition of the elderly has proved particularly fragile. Currently the activities of Long Live Elderly are developed in about 50 countries of the world with a different degree of interventions. Again, and again the programme is carried out by young volunteers and elderly people who have been supported and who have somehow made themselves available to the more fragile elderly.

How to start?

How can this initiative be implemented in other countries?

Consult the website, write an email and check if the program is already present in your city or country and coordinate with the people in charge of it. If the program it is not yet implemented, Long Live Elderly team will support you.


VIDEO