NEXT YEAR, THE NUMBER of  Bishops in Yorubaland who are aged 80 years and above would be six. That is when Baba Fasina of Ijebu Ode will join the current five – Bishop Adelakun, Bishop Alonge, Bishop Fagun, Cardinal Okogie, and Archbishop Job in that exclusive club. Not just Bishops, there are priests and religious too in their eighties among us. Their number will continue to climb, calling for appropriate awareness by the faithful.

A starting point is our consciousness at all times that these men and women chose service to God and abandoned all avenues to acquisition of the means to personal comfort. They chose at an early age, to seek the enrichment of the Body of Christ, forsaking the pursuit of personal enrichment. By embracing lives in obedience, poverty, and chastity, they have not counted their rewards in earthly goodsbut have worked solely for the good of the Church, making the salvation of souls their sole goal.Priests and religious, by their vocations have given their all, for our own good; serving God by serving us.

As young men and women, they spent their energies in raising the children of the Church, entrenching values that will serve the beneficiaries throughout live, strengthening harmony within Christian families, building a better society for the faithful and for other citizens. All these while neglecting to build an infrastructure of means to support their old age. Such are our expectations of them; such are the standards by which they live. How many of us think that we owe these priests a debt of gratitude and an obligation to minister to their needs.

Dad was my earliest instructor in the faith, and one of the first things he taught me was ‘iranlowo Sesedoti” – care of priests. The obligation to take care of priests is important to our faith. It is one that serves the self-interest of the faithful as the care of priests by the faithful frees the priests from other considerations aside from his main duty of ministering to the flock.

During the active ministry life of a priest, he has no time, no opportunityand no desire to gather a store of resources for his old age, unlike his lay contemporary. While active, the priest is assured of decent accommodation, adequate means of transportation and reasonable care necessary for his vocation. In many cases, parishioners ‘upgrade’ such provisions in appreciation of the priest’s work. The retired priest has no parish, except that in which he might reside.

Thankfully, the Church has been up to the task of taking care of old or retired priests and religious. Various dioceses, conferences, and congregations have devised strategies, guidelines and modalities for this purpose. And as in all things Catholic, there is no doubt that these are all working well. Where they need reviews and amends, the Church is sure to act in the best interest of all. It is therefore not the Church, or any of her ecclesiastic order that is the focus of attention but the lay faithful, lest we forget our duties. The efforts of the Church should not absolve us of our own responsibilities.

Why do we need to be involved?

Retired and elderly indigenous clergy and religious are  recent amongst us in comparison to other parts of the world. The introduction of the faith through European missionaries meant that those priests and religious who grow old in service return to their places of origin at retirement. The culture of retired clergy is new amongst us and their care should not be left to the diocese and religious groups alone. The lay faithful should be a player and a partner in whatever is in place.

Also, the absence of a public care system for the elderly in our society precludes old priests access to government assistance. As in our private lives in which we cater for the aged in our families, aged clergy and religious are also our responsibilities since they are members of our faith family.

Furthermore, we owe it to them as gratitude for their service to us and to the Church. The local Church is relatively new in the business of taking care of retired priests; but the lay faithful is not new in taking care of aged members of the families. So, the faithful should bring that experience to the service of the Church.

What can we do?

The elderly love company and attention; we should visit with them as often as we can, without becoming a nuisance. During those visits, we should be attentive to their comments so as to be able to pick up on their needs and their concerns. We should not bother them so much with our own worries. As priests and religious, they have enormous empathy and may become saddled  with our problems. While their counsel is priceless and may be sought, we need to recognize that fine line. We may ask if they needed tasks to be accomplished, or errands to run. We can assist in little ways that may go a long way.

While visiting, look out for signs of health issues and wellbeing. Be careful how you bring up your observations so as to not cause alarm. Do not offer treatment if you have no expertise. Encourage them to bring up such with their caregivers. Do not undertake complex tasks on their behalf without the knowledge of their primary caregiver who may be a priest or religious. If in doubt, clear with someone who has authority.

Kudos to the Church for the care of elderly priests and religious.

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