In a March 15 audience with the College of Cardinals, 76-year-old Pope Francis I noted that the clerics in the room who elected him weren’t young men either. (Indeed, the average age of the 115 members of the Roman Catholic Church’s highest ecclesiastical body is 71 years, 10 months, according to Catholic News Service.)
But the pontiff apparently sees their senior status as a plus rather than a liability, because he urged the cardinals to share the insights they’ve accumulated in their years of service with the young.
Let us give this wisdom to young people,” he said. “Like good wine, it becomes better with age. Let us give to young people the wisdom of life.”
It wasn’t the first time that a pope had dispensed his views on the issue of aging. And they’ve spoken from experience: Over the past century, according to this chart, the average age of those who’ve ascended to the papacy has been 66, and three of the popes have been over over the age of 70 (76-year-old John XXIII in 1963, 78-year-old Benedict XVI in 2005, and now Francis I).
Here are some of their pearls of wisdom:
- “It’s beautiful to be old. … The quality of a society, I’d say of a civilization, is judged by how well it treats its elderly.” —Benedict XVI (served from 2005 to 2013), speaking to a group of elderly residents of Rome in November 2012
- “It is within the family that the elderly ought to find their first field of action. Their wisdom and experience are a treasure to the young married fold who, in the difficulties of early married life, can find in aged parents agreeable counselors and confidants, while the children will find in the example and affectionate care of their grandparents something which will compensate for the absences of the parents, which, for various reasons, are so frequent today.” —John Paul II (1978-2005), in a May 1982 message
- “Elderly people help us to see human affairs with greater wisdom, because life’s vicissitudes have brought them knowledge and maturity. They are the guardians of our collective memory, and thus the privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values which support and guide life in society.” —John Paul II, Letter to the Elderly, Oct. 1, 1999
- “While speaking of older people, I would also say a word to the young, to invite them to remain close to the elderly. … I urge you to do this with great love and generosity. Older people can give you much more than you can imagine.” —John Paul II, Letter to the Elderly, Oct. 1, 1999
- “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” —Paul VI ( 1963-1978)
- “The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune.” —Paul VI
- “We have arrived at the start of our 82nd year. Will we arrive at the end of it? We are not excessively concerned.” —John XXIII (1958-1963), in an address at a celebration of his 81st birthday in November 1962
- “When the body gets worn out, the soul gets in shape.” —John XXIII
- “Men are like wine — some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.” —John XXIII
Photo: L’Osservatore Romano/Pool/Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis