Vatican City, Jan 31, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Grandparents can play a pivotal role in ensuring that the faith is passed on to their grandchildren in secularized societies, Pope Francis said Friday.

“God has a large population of grandparents throughout the world … They are the indispensable link in educating children and young people in the faith,” the pope said Jan. 31.

Speaking to a Vatican conference on pastoral care for the elderly, Pope Francis focused his remarks on the gifts that the elderly bring to the Church and society today.

“Nowadays, in secularized societies in many countries, current generations of parents do not have, for the most part, the Christian formation and living faith that grandparents can pass on to their grandchildren,” Pope Francis said.

“The elderly person, even when he is weak, can become an instrument of salvation history,” he said. “They are not only people whom we are called to assist and protect to guard their lives, but they can be actors in a pastoral evangelizing ministry, privileged witnesses of God’s faithful love.”

The global population of people over the age of 80 is projected to triple by 2050, according to the United Nations. Today’s global population aged 60 years or over is more than double what it was in 1980.

“In the twenty-first century, old age has become one of the distinctive features of humanity. Over a period of just a few decades, the demographic pyramid – which once rested upon a large number of children and young people and had at the top just a few elderly people – has been inverted,” the pope said.

Pope Francis, 83, noted that as governments learn how to deal with demographic changes, the Church can contribute to civil society by sharing the dignity and meaning of old age.

“The indifference and rejection that our societies manifest towards the elderly demand not only of the Church, but of all of us, a serious reflection to learn to grasp and to appreciate the value of old age,” the pope said.

“We need to change our pastoral habits in order to respond to the presence of so many older people in families and communities,” he added.

Pope Francis addressed the Vatican conference, “The Richness of Many Years of Life,” on pastoral care for the elderly organized by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life taking place at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum Jan. 29-31.

“Different seasons of life correspond to old age: for many, it is the age in which productive efforts cease, strength declines and the signs of illness, the need for help, and social isolation appear; but for many it is the beginning of a long period of psycho-physical well-being and freedom from work commitments,” Pope Francis said.

“In the Bible, longevity is a blessing. It confronts us with our fragility, with our mutual dependence, with our family and community ties, and above all with our divine sonship. Granting old age, God the Father gives us time to deepen our knowledge of Him, our intimacy with Him, to enter ever more into His heart and surrender ourselves to Him,” he said. “This is the time to prepare to deliver our spirit into His hands, definitively, with childlike trust.”

“Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others,” Pope Francis said.