The bond of friendship between the Community of Sant’Egidio and many elderly goes back to 1972. It has been holding until today thanks to the faithful care for those people and the attention for their problems.
Friendship was the way to penetrate the depths of the “continent” which is the condition of the elderly. We met our first aged friends in the suburbs of Rome (Primavalle and Garbatella) and later on in an area of the old town centre (Trastevere). At that time, in that very district, the doors of the ancient convent of Sant’Egidio opened to welcome the evening prayer of the Community. The first ones who came and join the prayer of the Community were elderly.
In Trastevere and in the suburbs of the city many older people were lonely and neglected. Those who were elderly in the seventies and the eighties had often endured sufferings. Their stories reveled that a huge part of the city was affected by poverty and loneliness. Many of our elderly friends had been sent away from their homes in the city centre; the areas where they were born and had lived had been destroyed to make room for the fascist regime new buildings; most of them had been resettled in suburban districts. War was the most important and grievous memory of theirs. Then, in postwar period, hard times came, and then the illusions of the youth, love stories, loneliness and widowhood for some. They, all together, told us the story of a generation of people who had to struggle to meet their basic needs, who experienced emigration to get a decent job, who waited decades to get a proper house living in a shanty. Their diseases cold not be treated properly due to lack of resources and they bore the consequences. They did not even know consumerism.
Not only the elderly of Rome had to endure such hard lives. Over the time we realized that many elderly in many parts of the world shared the same or similar experiences during the 20th Century.
Although those elderly had sick bodies, with the scares of deprivation and hard work, they wanted to live. And along with that will to live a recurring question emerged: what or whom do I live for? Every man or woman, who feels he/she is getting decrepit and old-fashioned, marginalized and disregarded even by the nearest, may ask him/herself or the people around the same question.
After many years during which we have lived the solidarity with the elderly we can answer such a question: whom do I live for? Who cares about me? Life is always worth living when you have someone close to you. Being helped in difficult moments of their lives the elderly rediscovered the reason to live.
It was a long story of togetherness and companionship: it has changed our mindset and the social environment around many elderly as well. At the beginning of this story we all were young, high school or university students, and we didn’t possessed any knowledge about old age. We didn’t know that a dramatic social transformation was then occurring. It is called “demographic revolution”. Nowadays the number of the elderly is increasing a great deal. At that time we just became aware that the most serious “disease” of the elderly we met was loneliness. They needed friendship and support. That is why we begin to take care of them. We felt sympathy with them and their troubles right away. Filomena, Paolina, Nello and many others are the persons with whom we wrote our story as a christian community. Thanks to them the “alliance” of the Community with the elderly grew up.
We realized that friendship between a young generation and an old one was possible, even though we had different tastes, cultures and parlances. We could offer them what we had most precious: friendship. As friends we could help, understand, listen to and support them.