CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 January 2019

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A place at the table

In mid-September the South China Morning Post ran a story entitled the Silver Tsunami, which looked at worrying statistics of aging that will place extremely severe pressures on medical and social services in Hong Kong.

However, Hong Kong is not the only developed society in the world facing this issue. Australia is showing a similar demographic, which in its slightly less deferring culture would be dubbed the Grey Tsunami, as it looks at its over 65s doubling in number in the next 40 years.

This can be viewed simply as a problem and undoubtedly does pose challenges to administrations, but in their Social Justice Statement for 2016, A Place at the Table: Social justice in an aging society, the bishops of the land down under have described it as something to celebrate, calling the longevity a “great success story of human development.”

The bishops are putting out a call to the nation to celebrate the value, dignity and significant contributions of older people to the life of the community, saying that they have a rightful place in the heart of the life of society.

The president of the Social Justice Council, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay (Maronite rite), said at the launch of the statement on September 6 that this is not a wakeup call to an upcoming problem, but a challenge to create a fairer and more compassionate nation.

He then pointed to what he believes is the big danger; a society ill-prepared for such a huge demographic change simply assessing the situation as an economic threat that prevents it from celebrating its great achievement of creating the conditions of life that allow such longevity.

“Already we hear divisive terms such as intergenerational theft, as well as invidious comparisons between productive workers and burdensome retirees,” he points out.

Bishop Tarabay said that this is an extremely big challenge for today, as by and large the country has not made or planned to make adequate preparation for the arrival of the Grey Tsunami and in the climate of today’s society, with its tendency to abort the unwanted child, a growing call to euthanise its burdensome retirees and only cherish its utile productive workers, the stage is set for disaster.

The bishops’ statement says that now is the time to act and society needs to actively promote the building of bonds between generations and develop an attitude where no one is caste as a burden or an economic rival, especially in a climate where aged care itself has become a for-profit industry.

All developed cultures have their traditional ways of caring for the aged and showing respect for them, but these have been largely dismantled by changed living circumstances. New ways are needed.

The modern industrialised and urbanised society champions the nuclear family and imposes economic structures that often preclude the traditional ways of respecting and caring for its older members.

It is a cultural and religious question, as it demands both the regenerating of an old value and adapting it to an expression that is viable in a modern, urbanised, technological society.

The tsunami is coming, be it grey or silver, and Hong Kong as much as anywhere else needs a cultural conversion to make room at its table for everyone. JiM