Two popes attend gathering of the wise and wrinkled at the Vatican

Sun Sep 28, 2014 7:38am EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Elderly people, including former Pope Benedict, attended a gathering of the wise and wrinkled at the Vatican on Sunday, where Pope Francis denounced the neglect and abandonment of the old as "hidden euthanasia".

During the festive event in St. Peter's Square, Francis addressed some 40,000 elderly people -- grandfathers, grandmothers, widows and widowers.

The pope sought to underscore the importance of the old in society and he said homes for the elderly could not be allowed to become "prisons" where care took a back seat to business interests by those who run them.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 600 million people over 60 in the world today and the figure is expected to double over the next 11 years and reach two billion by 2050, most in the developing world.

It was only the third time since his resignation in February, 2013 that Benedict, 87, attended a public event. He looked relatively healthy as he walked into the square using a cane and took a special seat in the front.

Benedict, wearing a white overcoat, stayed for about an hour

to hear old people speak about their lives and listen to a speech by his successor and then left before Francis led a Mass.

Benedict, the first pope to resign in six centuries, has been living out his retirement in near isolation in a former convent in the Vatican gardens. He is assisted by aides and receives few visitors.   Continued...

Pope Francis (R) greets Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI before a mass in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican September 28, 2014.   REUTERS/Tony Gentile