By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis on Tuesday released a message for the First World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly ahead of the date of the celebration which is scheduled for 25 July. The theme chosen by the Pope for the inaugural commemoration is “I am with you always” (Mt 28: 30).
The Holy Father addressed the theme from the Gospel of Matthew to all Grandparents and the elderly, reminding them that this is the promise the Lord made to his disciples before he ascended into heaven.
“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 said, identifying with the elderly, as one of them.
Comfort amid the pandemic
The Pope’s message comes amid the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected everyone, especially elderly people. Many, Pope Francis noted, “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, “He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic.” Illustrating this, he recounted the story of St. Joachim, the grandfather of Jesus, who, according to tradition, was consoled by a messenger of the Lord when he felt estranged from those around him.
The Lord sends angels, messengers through His words
Even at the darkest moments, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us that He is with us always, the Pope assured.
These angels, he continued, will at times have the face of our grandchildren, while at other times, “the face of family members, lifelong friends or those we have come to know during these trying times, when we have learned how important hugs and visits are for each of us.”
At the same time, the Lord also “sends us messengers through his words, which are always at hand” the Pope noted, inviting the elderly to “try to read a page of the Gospel every day, to pray with the psalms, to read the prophets.” He added that “the Scriptures will also help us to understand what the Lord is asking of our lives today. For at every hour of the day, and in every season of life, he continues to send labourers into his vineyard.”
The vocation of the elderly
The Holy Father went to recall the words of Jesus to the disciples when he asked them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20)
Addressing these words to the elderly, he highlighted that this helps them better understand that they have the vocation “to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young, and to care for the little ones” irrespective of their age, if they are alone or have a family, if they work or not or if they are grandparents or not. The Pope underlined that there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to grandchildren.
Further encouraging the elderly to “set out and undertake something new” in spite of the doubts and questions they might have, he reminded them that Jesus himself heard a similar question when Nicodemus asked him “how can a man be born when he is old” (Jn 3:4)
It can happen, “if we open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, who blows where he wills. The Holy Spirit whose freedom is such that goes wherever, and does whatever he wills,” the Pope said.
Emerging from the crisis
Reflecting on collective efforts to put an end to the pandemic, Pope Francis stressed that we will not emerge from the present crises as we were before, but either better and worse. He noted that “no one is saved alone” and we are all indebted to one another because “we are all brothers and sisters.”
In this regard, he went on to insist that the elderly “are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow” where, together with their children and grandchildren, “will live once the storm has subsided.”
The Pope insisted that all of us must “take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies” and the elderly, better than anyone else, can help to set up three of the pillars that support “this new edifice,” which include dreams, memory and prayer.
Dreams, memory and prayer
Recalling the words of Prophet Joel, “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men will have visions” (Joel 3:1), Pope Francis said that the future of the world depends on the covenant between young and old because “who, if not the young, can take the dreams of the elderly and make them come true?”
For this to happen, “it is necessary that we continue to dream,” said the Pope. “Our dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity, can make it possible for our young people to have new visions; in this way, together, we can build the future.”
Explaining further, the Pope said that “dreams are intertwined with memory.” The Pope then turned his thoughts to the painful memory of war and the importance of helping the young to learn the value of peace. He stressed that those among the elderly that experienced the suffering of war must pass on the message because keeping memory alive and sharing it with others is a true mission for every elderly person.
“Without memory, however, we will never be able to build; without a foundation, we can never build a house. Never. And the foundation of life is memory,” he said.
Finally, Pope Francis spoke on prayer, recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s words: “the prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.”
He reminded the elderly that their prayer is “a very precious resource; a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need” that “inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore” especially in these times “as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic.”
Concluding, the Holy Father held up the example of Blessed Charles de Foucauld to the elderly, explaining that the story of his life “shows how it is possible, even in the solitude of one’ s own desert, to intercede for the poor of the whole world and to become, in truth, a universal brother or sister.” He, therefore, asked the Lord that through his example, “all of us may open our hearts in sensitivity to the sufferings of the poor and intercede for their needs.”
“May each of us learn to repeat to all, and especially to the young, the words of consolation we have heard spoken to us today: “I am with you always”! keep moving forward! May the Lord grant you his blessing,” the Pope said.