Digitalisation is a buzz word these days.

While societies around the world were already adopting digital technology in more facets of life, the pandemic has hastened this process. Although digitalisation allows social activities to continue online, despite physical distancing policies, it can also widen the generation gap between the elderly and the young, not just because social media can transform lifestyles but also because seniors who have no access to technology are unable to participate actively in the building of society.

For this reason, the Holy Father’s Message for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is so timely. In his moving message, Pope Francis shared that before he was elected as Pope, he thought (wrongly) that he would be doing nothing new as retirement age approached. He concluded that there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel; the Lord calls all persons to different missions in the different phases of their lives.

The Pope’s exhortation is an application of Catholic Social Teaching’s (CST) principle of the dignity of work. This CST principle states that, since there is inherent dignity in every human person and the work performed by each person, work is a way for all persons to express their dignity and develop their gifts. This expression of human dignity through work is not something reserved for the young, but for everyone. By asking his fellow seniors not to retire from the work of the Gospel, the Holy Father is asking those of us who are elderly to express our dignity through work appropriate to our phase of life. At the same time, those of us who are younger need to recognise and respect this dignity.

Moreover, work in any form helps connect a person to other people, and allows them to participate in the development of the society. This is important because the CST principle of participation tells us that each of us has a right and a responsibility to have a say in what determines our future and society, whether we are young or old. This is very practical because a society has a better chance to progress when everyone contributes.

In fact, Pope Francis explained that those of us who are seniors are especially needed in this difficult time. As we attempt to rebuild a society battered by the pandemic crisis, the vast life experiences and memories of the elderly can shape the dreams needed to inspire and build the world of tomorrow. The younger generation, therefore, must appreciate this and join together with the older generation to participate in this rebuilding, despite the “digital divide”.

Closing the gaps between different generations is difficult, especially during a time of great change. But the Gospel reading today tells us that Jesus could multiply five loaves and two fish to feed thousands. Sacred Scripture is reminding us that God can convert our attempts, no matter how small or feeble, into abundantly fruitful endeavours.

First published in Catholic News. Reprinted with permission.