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By Fr. Louis Kumpiluvelil
What did God and nature have in mind when designing the aging process? As they say, “The best wines have to be aged in cracked old barrels.” The last years of our lives are meant to mellow the soul, and everything inside our biology conspires to ensure this happens. And God is a party to this conspiracy. Each physical diminishment is designed to mature the soul. Aging isn’t always pleasant or easy, but there’s a rhyme and reason to the process. As the desert Fathers would say, “When the body is withered, then does the soul put forth leaves.” This is what the Salesian Province of Chennai discovered when 48 senior confreres, aged 70 to 93 years, came togethe
r on 27-29 July at the Provincial House in Chennai to celebrate their life and blessings, in an atmosphere of faith, fraternity and gratitude.
The vice-provincial Fr. John Alexander who convened the gathering described the group as a bunch of energetic and experienced men, full of years and wisdom. Old age, he said, is the final stage of human maturity and a sign of God’s blessings. Aging, he said, is not only a physical process but also a psychological and spiritual journey. Fr Don Bosco Lourdusamy, the provincial, spoke about grace-filled living which is achieved through silence, solitude and stillness. As stones in a riverbed become smooth over time due to the constant flow of water, as we age, we too undergo a similar process of change. Our interactions with one another, our readiness to learn, and our willingness to adapt to changing situations shape us and determine whether we age gracefully or not. He exhorted the elders to take a keen interest in the work of younger generations, appreciating their efforts while also gently guiding them and mentoring them. Former provincial Fr. Stanislaus Swamikannu spoke on ‘Intergenerational Dialogue’ and the need to add life to one’s years. Old age, he said, is to be seen as a resource and not as a problem or liability. Like all phases of life, our senior years come with their own challenges. However, the difficult and unpleasant aspects of aging should not overshadow all the wonderful aspects of growing old. It is a phase of life to be lived intensely. Fr. Rajkumar Fernando shared with the group some tips on how to ‘dodge your age and live a long and happy life’. Dr. Saravanan, a specialist in the field of gastroenterology, enlightened the participants on the disorders and diseases that affect the digestive system, including the liver, stomach, intestine, gallbladder, pancreas, etc. with the help of slides and videos.
The wisdom of their years and the richness of their Salesian experience were visible in the lively discussions during the general assembly. Their love and concern for the province and the upcoming generations of Salesians were also seen in the many questions they raised and the suggestions and ideas they shared. Many participants expressed their great joy and satisfaction at the opportunity this meeting offered them to meet old friends, experience the Salesian family spirit and refresh their sense of belonging to the province and the congregation.