VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis dedicated his general audience talk to the urgent need for young and old to come together so older people can share their faith and wisdom about the world.
"Let's think about dialogue, about the alliance between old and young," he said, as well as make sure this bond is not broken. "May the elderly have the joy of speaking, of expressing themselves with young people and may young people seek out the elderly to receive the wisdom of life from them."
It was an appeal one small boy in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall seemed to take to heart, walking past the guards and straight up to the pope to stand transfixed by his side during the final greetings at the audience's end.
The pope affectionately rubbed the boy's close-cropped hair and reassured him he was welcome to stay.
"During the audience we talked about dialogue between old and young, right? And this one, he has been brave and he's at ease," the pope said about his small guest to applause.
The pope continued his series of talks on old age and reflected on how reaching a ripe old age is a reassurance of eternal life in heaven.
In fact, "the image of a God, who is watching over everything with snow-white hair, is not a silly symbol, it is a biblical image, it is a noble image, even a tender image," the pope said. To depict God the Father as venerable in age and authority "expresses God's transcendence, his eternity and his constant care for this world and its history," the pope's talk said.
The vocation for every older man and woman, the pope said, is to bear witness to the faith and to the wisdom acquired over the years.
"The witness of the elderly is credible to children. Young people and adults are not capable of bearing witness in such an authentic, tender, poignant way, as elderly people can," the pope said.
He said it is also very compelling when the elderly bless life as it comes their way and show no resentment or bitterness as time marches on and death nears.
"The witness of the elderly unites the generations of life, the same with the dimensions of time: past, present and future, for they are not only the memory, they are the present as well as the promise," the pope said.
"It is painful and harmful to see that the ages of life are conceived of as separate worlds, in competition among themselves, each one seeking to live at the expense of the other. This is not right," he said.
An alliance between the elderly and young people "will save the human family," he said. "There is a future where children, where young people speak with the elderly. If this dialogue does not take place between the elderly and the young, the future cannot be clearly seen."
Humanity, even with all its progress, still seems "to be an adolescent born yesterday," which needs "to retrieve the grace of an old age that holds firmly to the horizon of our destination."
Death is a very difficult passage in life, the pope said, but it "concludes the time of uncertainty and throws away the clock," ushering in "the beautiful part of life, which has no more deadlines."
During the last part of the general audience, when the pope offers special greetings to those attending from different parts of the world, the pope reaffirmed his prayers for Ukraine, asking that people not forget "this martyred people."
There was also a brief interruption during the greetings when a Swiss guard, who was standing behind one of the language speakers, fell face forward, dropping his halberd. Two men from security assisted him in standing back up and another Swiss guard took his place.