By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The first-ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated on Sunday, 25 July under the theme “I am with you always” (Mt 28: 20).
Ahead of the inaugural celebration, the Canadian Bishops’ Conference Standing Committee for Family and Life (CCCB) released a video message inviting young people, families and communities to draw near and to spend time with grandparents and the elderly, cherishing and valuing their essential role in Church and society.
This first World Day is part of Pope Francis’ larger idea for the Amoris Laetitia Family Year which runs from 19 March 2021 – June 2022. The year highlights the importance of pastoral care of the elderly within the Christian community, encouraging us to spend time with one another and engage in intergenerational conversations.
While instituting the World Day at the Sunday Angelus on January 31, Pope Francis announced that it would take place each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.
The Lord and the Church are close to the elderly
“On this First World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, we give thanks to God for each of you and the many gifts He grants to us through you,” are the words with which the video message addressed to the elderly begins.
Holding up the theme of the celebration, the CCCB assured the elderly that in spite of the uncertain and turbulent times, the Lord and the Church are close to them. More so, “the Holy Father wishes to remind the whole world that the voice of the elderly is precious, because it sings the praises of God and preserves the roots of the peoples.”
The message went on to highlight the past many months that have been marked with significant challenges for all, particularly for the elderly, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
All over the world, “many elderly people have experienced terrible isolation. Families, grandchildren, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbours have been separated, distanced, and many have lost loved one,” the message noted.
“How we have missed not being able to visit one another, to hold hands, to give and receive hugs, to gather around tables to share a meal and enjoy one another’s company!”
In spite of the challenges, the bishops gave thanks for the “digital world, telephone calls, and hand-written letters” that have served “as a way to unite us, to communicate and to lighten the load,” and to reduce the difficulty of not being physically present to one another.
The Elderly: Keepers of the faith and “our storytellers”
Reflecting on the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the message notes the Jesus reassures the disciples that he will always be with them as they are sent forth to preach the Good News and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This promise that we are never alone rings true today, just as it did for the disciples, the CCCB's message said, expressing joy in the “great gift” that the elderly are, for the Church and Society.
“You are keepers of the faith, steadfast and persevering,” they noted, adding that Saint John Paul II wrote that the elderly are “guardians of our collective memory which support and guide life in society.”
In addition, the video message continued, the elderly are very often, “our storytellers”, gathering grandchildren and younger generations at their side to help them better understand our families, our histories, our communities and our world.
Grandparents connect to the past, present and future
The bishops further highlighted that the stories and experiences of grandparents and the elderly “allow young people to dream and value that there is lasting truth, goodness and beauty throughout the seasons of life” because while they recall and connect to the past, they also “stand as powerful witnesses to our present and future.”
“Please continue to share with affection, tenderness and enthusiasm the ways the Lord has walked with you your whole life,” the CCCB urged the elderly. “Accompany your grandchildren by showing them how to sow and nurture the seeds of faith.”
Mission of evangelization, proclamation and prayer
The video message then reminded the elderly of the mission of evangelization, proclamation and prayer entrusted to them by Pope Francis, inviting them pray for an outpouring of grace upon their families and communities, and to let the joy of the Gospel transform their lives so that they may continue to encourage those who suffer and are lost.
“Just as you help young people to believe in their dreams for the future, our wish is that you too, will continue to contemplate the wonder and beauty of God’s gift of life.
The bishops also urged grandparents not to be discouraged by the pandemic and its effects, adding that through mutual support and helping one another, “we will heal from heartache caused by sadness and isolation.”
The video message concluded with a note of gratitude to all grandparents and the elderly, and an invitation to all to walk together with them through this stage of life, each of us, holding our fragilities and limitations.
“Together we praise the Lord of life and love with the words of the psalmist, ‘You show me the path of life, in your presence, there is fullness of life (Ps 16:11).’”