My Dear Friends:
Today we celebrate the 3rd World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. Pope Francis established this day in 2021 near the feast of Saints Joaquim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus, to highlight the important role grandparents and the elderly play between generations. It is providential that we celebrate this day on the eve of World Youth Day which begins in Lisbon, Portugal next week. In his very first World Youth Day as Pope, the Holy Father talked to the young people about the importance of listening to their grandparents:
How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family. The Aparecida Document says, “Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives” (No. 447). This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened! (Angelus Address on the Feast of Sts. Joaquim and Anne, July 26, 2013, Rio de Janeiro)
Ten years later, the Pope made the following special exhortation to the young people preparing for World Youth Day: “To you, the young who are preparing to meet in Lisbon or to celebrate World Youth Day in your own countries, I would ask: before you set out on your journey, visit your grandparents or an elderly person who lives alone!” In this same message, the Holy Father went on to say:
This year, the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly takes place close to World Youth Day. Both celebrations remind us of the “haste” (cf. Luke 1:39) with which Mary set out to visit Elizabeth. In this way, they invite us to reflect on the bond that unites young and old. The Lord trusts that young people, through their relationships with the elderly, will realize that they are called to cultivate memory and recognize the beauty of being part of a much larger history. Friendship with an older person can help the young to see life not only in terms of the present and realize that not everything depends on them and their abilities. For the elderly, the presence of a young person in their lives can give them hope that their experience will not be lost and that their dreams can find fulfilment. (Message for Third World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly.)
These words from our Holy Father uttered ten years ago and this summer should embolden us to continue to honor our grandparents. I lost my last grandparent 14 years ago. I miss their counsel and wisdom. I miss the stories they would tell me about Cuba. I miss my grandmothers’ cooking. I miss hearing my grandfathers discussing world affairs far better than any pundit on television. Most of all, I miss their quiet evangelical witness. While my grandparents weren’t overtly religious, they exemplified their faith through quiet acts of charity. They were part of Cuba’s greatest generation who had to uproot their young families and begin anew in a foreign country not knowing the language.
This is the history and the wisdom that Pope Francis does not want young people to forget. The sacrifices their grandparents and the elderly made. This was something that was not lost on me when I stood on the beaches of Normandy last month and thought of the sacrifices made by America’s Greatest Generation during World War II. I have buried many World War II veterans, and sadly that number has been dwindling in recent years as more veterans join their brothers in arms in the Father’s house. But I distinctly remember each conversation I have had with them, conversations I have had with Holocaust survivors, and how each word enriched my life and my ministry.
So, today we honor our grandparents and the elderly. We go out in haste to visit them just as Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also advanced in years. We thank each of them for their witness of faith.
I want to conclude this column by giving a special recognition to the grandparents of our parish who are so passionate about transmitting the faith to their grandchildren. Many a time they sit in our Religious Education Office to register their grandchildren for catechesis because their children are ambivalent about the faith. To all the grandparents who think they are “nagging” their children too much to transmit the faith to their own children, I have one simple message: be persistent, don’t waver in your determination that your grandchildren receive the sacraments, and thank you for all you do to save the souls of your grandchildren. Today, we honor and thank God for you!
God bless you all,