ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Old Age in the Near East

Reflections on the older generations of the Holy Land.

He toils in the field until his leathery brown brow is soaking wet, remembering the many years he has known this land, happy that he is still useful to himself, his family and his native Syria…

She sits in the courtyard of Abu Dis in Bethany, hands moving busily, mind working fast, wondering how she could have outlived her husband and nine children, wishing that they could be here to comfort her, crying quietly until a diminutive figure named Sister Eve comes to ease her pain…

He moves slowly along a busy Istanbul street, his strong but wrinkled hand grasping that of his three-year-old granddaughter. In spite of a seventy-five year difference in age, they take in the sights with the same mind and heart. Both are filled with wonder…

These are just a few of the millions of characters in the story of Old Age in the Near East. It is a story filled with pain and loneliness, poverty and suffering. But it is also a tale of hope and respect, kindness and faith.

To be sure, there are old people dying in the streets of Calcutta every day. There are destitute refugees as well as wealthy but lonely souls. There is the pain of disease and hunger, the scars of a lifetime of war and violence.

But for every homeless soul, there is one who has been given shelter. And for every instance of negligence, there are the widespread respect for the aged, and untold works of mercy and kindnesses performed.

Throughout the Bible, old things generally and old age in particular were revered by the Hebrews and other Semitic peoples…

“The glory of the young is their strength, the dignity of the old, gray hairs.”
   – (Proverbs 20:29)

…And it was traditionally believed that the aged possessed great wisdom…

“With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days, understanding.”
   – (Job 12:12)

Fortunately, this great respect for one’s elders has been passed down through the successive generations and centuries. In the Near East today, most old folks reign as “kings” and “queens” of the family and household, and the respect and honor shown them is both remarkable and exemplary.

For those who have no family to love and honor them, the road is harder. Poverty frequently goes hand in hand with advanced years, and loneliness is an added affliction more often than not.

At this point in the story, though, there is another cast of characters – those who have dedicated their lives to providing those things which are far more important than material comforts. The Russian writer Maxim Gorky once wrote: “To an old man any place that’s warm is homeland.” Mother Teresa’s Sisters, Sister Eve of Abu Dis Home, Father Augustino Arce (an octogenarian himself who has ministered to Jerusalem’s aged for many years), and countless other nuns, priests and lay volunteers throughout the Near Eastall strive to provide the necessary warmth.

Through the efforts of these workers, and with the faith and hope of the aged themselves, the respect of their families, and the prayers of “friends” in America, the golden, ideal old age – of which poets wrote and with which some are already blessed – may become reality for all the aged of the Near East, and everywhere:

“Age is opportunity no less than youth itself, though in another dress. And as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
   — Longfellow, 1874

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