Grandparents Day

Pope establishes World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly

On the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis said he is worried about how an individualistic society treats its older members, and he urged young people to give them love and attention.

“I worry when I see a society full of people in constant motion, too caught up in their own affairs to have time for a glance, a greeting or a hug,” the pope said in a homily read by Archbishop Rino Fisichella July 25.

“Our grandparents, who nourished our own lives, now hunger for our attention and our love; they long for our closeness. Let us lift up our eyes and see them, even as Jesus sees us,” he stated.

Pope Francis’ homily was read during a Mass for around 2,500 elderly people and grandparents, together with their children and grandchildren, held in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Mass, scheduled to be said by the pope, was instead celebrated by Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, while Pope Francis is convalescing at the Vatican after undergoing colon surgery July 4.

During July, Francis typically takes a break from public audiences and other meetings, though he has continued to give his weekly Sunday Angelus address.

In the pope’s homily, he reflected on the Gospel passage from St. John, which recounts the story of when Jesus fed multitudes through the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes.

Francis pointed to the last part of the passage, when Jesus directed his disciples to collect the leftover pieces of bread, so that “nothing may be lost.”

“This reveals the heart of God,” he said. “Not only does he give us more than we need, he is also concerned that nothing be lost, not even a fragment.”

“A morsel of bread may seem a little thing, but in God’s eyes, nothing is to meant to be thrown away. Even more so, no person is ever to be discarded,” he explained, adding that our grandparents and elderly “are not leftovers from life, scraps to be discarded.”

In January, Pope Francis established the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to take place annually on the fourth Sunday of July, close to the feast of the grandparents of Jesus, Saints Anne and Joachim.

The theme of this year’s grandparents’ day is “I am with you always,” taken from Matthew 28:20.

In a message released ahead of this year’s celebration, Pope Francis encouraged the elderly to continue to spread the Gospel even in their old age.

“There is something beautiful here. Your prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need,” he stated.

In his homily July 25, Francis said the Church needs “a new covenant between young and old.”

When Jesus fed the hungry crowd, he did so using loaves and fishes shared by a young man, he pointed out. “How touching it is, that at the heart of this miracle, by which some five thousand adults were fed, we find a young person willing to share what he had.”

“In our societies, we have frequently surrendered to the notion of ‘every man for himself.’ But this is deadly,” he said. “The Gospel bids us share what we are and what we possess, for only in this way will we find fulfillment.”

He urged young adults to visit their grandparents, their elderly relatives, and the older people in their neighborhood.

“They protected us as we grew, and now it is up to us to protect their lives, to alleviate their difficulties, to attend to their needs and to ensure that they are helped in daily life and not feel alone,” he said.

Pope Francis noted that for many of us, our grandparents “cared for us, ever since we were children. Despite lives of hard work and sacrifice, they were never too busy for us, or indifferent to us. They looked at us with care and tender love.”

“When we were growing up and felt misunderstood or fearful about life’s challenges, they kept an eye on us; they knew what we were feeling, our hidden tears and secret dreams,” he continued. “They held us in their arms and sat us on their knees. That love helped us grow into adulthood.”

“May we never regret that we were insufficiently attentive to those who loved us and gave us life,” he stated.

As part of the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, the Vatican has also granted a plenary indulgence to those who participate, either by attending a related spiritual event or by physically or virtually visiting the elderly, sick, or disabled on July 25.

An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins that have already been forgiven.

The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence, which must be met, are that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, have complete detachment from sin, and pray for the pope’s intentions.

The Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life released a prayer for the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. The full text of the prayer is below:

I thank You, Lord,

for the comfort of Your presence:

even in times of loneliness,

You are my hope and my confidence,

You have been my rock and my fortress since my youth!

I thank You for having given me a family

and for having blessed me with a long life.

I thank You for moments of joy and difficulty,

for the dreams that have already come true in my life and for those that are still ahead of me.

I thank You for this time of renewed fruitfulness to which You call me.

Increase, O Lord, my faith,

make me a channel of your peace,

teach me to embrace those who suffer more than me,

to never stop dreaming

and to tell of your wonders to new generations.

Protect and guide Pope Francis and the Church,

that the light of the Gospel might reach the ends of the earth.

Send Your Spirit, O Lord, to renew the world,

that the storm of the pandemic might be calmed,

the poor consoled and wars ended.

Sustain me in weakness

and help me to live life to the full

in each moment that You give me,

in the certainty that you are with me every day,

even until the end of the age.

Ameen.

When Pope Francis celebrates the first-ever World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly on July 25, he will be elevating a theme that he has sought to promote since his inauguration homily as pope in 2013, when he said one of the duties of being a Christian is protecting the elderly.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 31, when he announced the establishment of the special day, Francis said, “The Holy Spirit still stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly today.”

“Their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and safeguards the roots of peoples,” he continued. “They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.”

The World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly is to be celebrated every year on the fourth Sunday of July on the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents.

For Francis, who has returned to the theme on scores of occasions over the last eight years of his papacy, including in a book and a forthcoming Netflix documentary, securing the link between generations is essential now more than ever in a church seeking to reemerge in a post-pandemic world.

Why are grandparents an important theme for Pope Francis?

For Francis, the importance of grandparents is personal.

Prior to becoming pope, and frequently since then, he has cited his own grandmother Rosa as critical to his priestly vocation.

“It was my grandmother who taught me to pray,” he said. “She taught me a lot about faith and told me stories about the saints.”

When he was a young seminarian, his nonna Rosa told him that “the most important thing for a priest is to celebrate Mass,” and shared the story of another mother who advised her priest son “to celebrate Mass, every single Mass, as if it was your last.”

The Bergoglio family emigrated from the northern Italian region of Piedmont to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1929. Following the birth of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, the future pope spent time each day in his grandparents’ home.

Francis has also written about how he keeps a note from his nonna in his breviary.

“May my grandchildren, to whom I have given the best of my heart, have a long and happy life,” she wrote. “But if there are days of pain or illness, or if the loss of a loved one fills them with despair, may they remember that a whisper of a prayer and a look to Mary at the feet of the cross, can be like a drop of balm on even the deepest and most painful wounds.”

And in his first Palm Sunday homily as pope, Francis again elevated his grandmother’s wisdom, telling the faithful: “When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket,” as a reminder that one cannot take one’s money with them to the grave.

What has Francis had to say about grandparents and the elderly?

Since becoming pope, Francis has reserved some of his highest praise for the elderly, referring to them as “heroic,” a “treasure” and “beautiful.”

Pope Francis greets people during an encounter with the elderly in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2014. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets people during an encounter with the elderly in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 28, 2014. (CNS/Paul Haring)

In fact, in 2014, Francis hosted a first-ever meeting with the elderly with an estimated 50,000 individuals in attendance, among them Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom the pope greeted as the “grandfather of all grandfathers.”

At an event in St. Peter’s Square, which included musical performances by Andrea Bocelli, the pope told the crowd that “old age is a time of grace,” adding that “the elderly, grandparents have the ability to understand the most difficult of situations: a great ability! And when they pray for these situations, their prayer is strong; it is powerful!”

In his landmark 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” in making his case for greater urgency for environmental action and care for creation, the pope went on to lament a “throwaway culture,” that abandons the elderly who “no longer serve our interests.”

Following a Synod of Bishops on young people in 2018, the pope specifically cited the importance of the elderly in advising younger generations on how to think about the future.

Aidalis Guanipa, 25, poses for a photo with her 83-year-old grandmother in La Concepción, Venezuela, April 12, 2019. (CNS/Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino)

Aidalis Guanipa, 25, poses for a photo with her 83-year-old grandmother in La Concepción, Venezuela, April 12, 2019. (CNS/Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino)

“The elderly have dreams built up of memories and images that bear the mark of their long experience,” Francis wrote in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit. “If young people sink roots in those dreams, they can peer into the future; they can have visions that broaden their horizons and show them new paths. But if the elderly do not dream, young people lose clear sight of the horizon.”

What does the pope hope to accomplish through a day for the elderly and grandparents?

The desire to build a “culture of encounter” has become one of the major themes of the pope’s agenda — something he sees as needed between nations, religions and generations.

By establishing the inaugural World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, the pope is seeking to make the link between the elderly and the young more explicit, with both recognizing their need for the other and the value such relationships offer.

In reminding the elderly that their life still has purpose, even if they are not grandparents, the pope drew on his own personal experience: “I was called to become the bishop of Rome when I had reached, so to speak, retirement age, and thought I would not be doing anything new.”

For younger people, the pope also wants action.

In announcing the day, the Vatican has said that those who attend a Mass or another celebration for it and “devote adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty” or join in prayers for the elderly July 25 may receive a plenary indulgence.

For all parties, the pope wants the day to serve as a reminder that they are still needed. After over a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which particularly affected the elderly and resulted in the physical separation of families for long periods of time, the pope believes both the elderly and the young can build a better future as the world reemerges from this bleak period.

“You are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow,” the pope said in his special message for the upcoming day. “The world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided.”

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