By Lydia O’Kane
The inaurgural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated on Sunday 25 July, the eve of the feast St Joachim and St Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.
The theme chosen by Pope Francis for the inaugural commemoration is, “I am with you always” (Mt 28: 30).
In a message released ahead of Grandparents Day in June, the Pope recalled the challenges facing grandparents and the elderly during the pandemic.
“The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!” the Pope wrote.
He also noted that many elderly “fell ill, others died or experienced the death of spouses or loved ones, while others found themselves isolated and alone for long periods.”
“The Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time,” the Pope said.
Bishop Denis Nulty, who is chair of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family, described grandparents and the elderly, including older priests and religious, as among the “unsung heroes of the pandemic.”
“Throughout the pandemic, for the last year and a half we have seen grandparents and older people making huge sacrifices to protect themselves, they’ve had to keep away from their families, their loved ones and their grandchildren… they’ve had to stay inside.”
The Bishop also said they have had to deal with people they knew well dying in the room next to them in nursing homes - which is why, he underlined, this inaugural World Day is so important.
Passing on the faith
Asked what older people can teach young people about the faith, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin said they can teach a huge amount. “We learn our prayers sitting on the knees of our own mothers and grandmothers.” The Bishop also recalled his earliest memory was “sitting at home in my mother’s lap learning the Hail Mary. I also recall at home praying the Rosary,” he said.
Over the past year and a half, Bishop Nulty underlined the tremendous sacrifices the elderly and grandparents have had to make. During the pandemic, older people had to stay indoors in order to stay safe, leaving many feeling isolated. “I think the hardest thing to say to a grandparent,” said the Bishop, “is that you cannot see those you love. But thank God, I think we’re getting into a better place now with the pandemic, and it’s just so wonderful to see grandparents out walking with their grandchildren … but we still have a journey to go with this pandemic as well.”
Speaking about the importance of Grandparents Day and Pope Francis’ input, Bishop Nulty said, “Isn’t Pope Francis like everyone’s grandfather?” Bishop Nulty is also inviting parishes in his diocese to “get involved”. The Bishop said that he will be at the Knock International Shrine in the west of Ireland on Sunday, where there will be a Mass to mark this special day.
The Bishop highlighted that down through scripture, God continued to use people with great wisdom to do many things for him, such as Abraham, Moses, Tobit and Elizabeth. “We can add also our own grandparents; the elderly in our lives, of what they have done for us, of what they continue to do for us by making his love real in our lives.”