Sr Constance Veit, L.S.P.
Each year British retailer John Lewis creates a seasonal buzz with its creative, emotionally charged Christmas advertisements. This year the department store chain has teamed with Age UK, Great Britain’s largest charity for senior citizens, to raise funds and awareness of the scourge of loneliness among the elderly today. The heart-wrenching commercial depicts a young girl reaching out to an elderly “Man on the Moon” and ends with a simple yet haunting slogan: “No one should have no one at Christmas.”
What does a British ad campaign have to do with us? When I saw the ad it struck me how much it is in synch with Pope Francis’ repeated appeals on behalf of the eldest members of our society. “It’s brutal to see how the elderly are thrown away,” he proclaimed earlier this year; “it is a brutal thing, it is a sin!” Pope Francis recounted a visit he paid to a retirement home one August. He met a woman who told him about her large family, and when he asked her about the last time her children had come to visit she replied, “for Christmas.” “Eight months without being visited by her children — abandoned for eight months!” he exclaimed. “This is called mortal sin!”
Our Holy Father issued a similar plea during the Festival of Families in Philadelphia earlier this year: “We have to care in a special way for children and for grandparents.… Taking care of grandparents and taking care of children is the sign of love — I’m not sure if it is the greatest, but for the family I would say that it is the most promising — because it promises the future. A people incapable of caring for children and caring for the elderly is a people without a future, because it lacks the strength and the memory needed to move forward.”
Christmas is the perfect time to take our Holy Father’s urgings to heart. The holidays can be lonely and stressful for many people — even more so for the elderly who have limited mobility and limited resources, who have outlived their loved ones, or who have been virtually forgotten by children and grandchildren caught up in the material distractions that have come to define the Christmas season in our culture. The irony is that not only do the elderly deserve our attention and care, but spending time with them can enrich us even more than it does them.
Pope Francis suggests that cultivating meaningful family relations is not as complicated as we might think. “Love is shown by little things,” he said during his final homily in America. Such simple gestures “get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion.… Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”
Age UK and other charities devoted to the elderly began reporting a significant upswing in donations and gestures of solidarity toward the elderly as soon as the John Lewis ad appeared on television and social media. If a secular ad campaign can inspire thousands of people in Great Britain to be more attentive to lonely seniors this Christmas, how much more should Pope Francis’ words and example during his visit to the United States motivate us to reach out to the elderly with our caring presence this Christmas and throughout the new year dedicated to mercy. Such familial love and solidarity would be a most beautiful and lasting fruit of Pope Francis’ first visit to our nation. Let's make sure that no one has no one this Christmas!