Pope in Canada: Preserve your history to protect your future

During Mass celebrated at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Tuesday - the feast day of Sts Joachim and Anne - Pope Francis reflects on the important role of grandparents in passing down the faith, and highlights the need to preserve the memory of those who preceded us.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ

On the second day of his 5-day “Penitential Pilgrimage” to Canada, Pope Francis presided at the Holy Mass at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, with the presence of the faithful.

In the homily, the Holy Father invited everyone to think about their own grandparents, as the Church celebrates the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anne, in whose home the child Jesus came to know his relatives and “experienced the closeness, tender love and wisdom of His grandparents.”

Children of a history to be preserved

Pope Francis highlighted that we are children of a history that needs to be preserved – not isolated individuals - as no one comes into the world detached from others. Thus, our roots and families in which we grew up are part of a unique history that preceded us and gave us life.

In this light, “we did not choose that history” but “received it as a gift”, one we are to cherish. We are “descendants” of those who went before us and their “inheritance” which is “centered on righteousness, fidelity to God and His will.”

“We are here thanks to our parents, but also thanks to our grandparents, who helped us feel welcome in the world," the Pope said, adding they are the ones who love us unconditionally, without expecting anything back. Thanks to them, he continued, “we received a caress from the history that preceded us: we learned that goodness, tender love and wisdom are the solid roots of humanity.”

Further appreciating grandparents, the Pope said it is in their homes that many of us “breathed in the fragrance of the Gospel,” and discovered a “familiar” faith, through affection, encouragement, care and closeness.

He pointed out that it is in this way that Joachim and Anne loved Mary, and how Mary, in turn, loved Jesus, with a love that “never smothered Him or held Him back,” and the Pope invited everyone to learn not to pressure the consciences of others, or fail to love and respect those who preceded us or are entrusted to our care.

Holy Mass presided over by Pope Francis at Edmonton stadium
Holy Mass presided over by Pope Francis at Edmonton stadium

Preserving memory

Pope Francis enjoined everyone, on this note, to set aside a worthy space for preserving memory, and to remember those who went before us, insisting that we should “cultivate our roots to pray for and with our forebears, to dedicate time to remember and guard their legacy.” 

He encouraged us not to lose their memory, nor forget the history that gave birth to our own lives. Rather, we should remember those whose hands caressed us and who held us in their arms; “for in this history we can find consolation in moments of discouragement, a light to guide us, and courage to face the challenges of life.”

“Let us ask ourselves: are we children and grandchildren capable of safeguarding this treasure that we have inherited? Do we remember the good teachings we have received? Do we talk to our elders, and take time to listen to them?”

Authors of a history yet unwritten

In addition to being children of a history that needs to be preserved, we are authors of a history yet to be written, the Pope said, noting that we are marked by both light and shadows, and by the love we did or did not receive.

He added that this is the mystery of human life: we are someone’s children but we too are called to give life, as fathers, mothers and grandparents to someone else. We should, therefore, ask ourselves what kind of society we want to build and bequeath to those who come after us, in light of the much we have received from those who preceded us.

Using the image of the life-giving sap that travels from roots, to branches, leaves, flowers and to the fruit of a tree, Pope Francis said that authentic tradition is expressed in this vertical dimension – from the bottom up. He, thus, warned against falling into a “caricature of tradition” which is not vertical – from roots to fruits, but horizontal – forwards and backwards, saying that this only leads to a backwards culture, trapped in the mentality that says “we have always done it this way.”

Pope Francis arrives at the stadium for the Mass
Pope Francis arrives at the stadium for the Mass

What are we passing on to those after us?

Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading, Pope Francis noted that Jesus tells his disciples that they are blessed because they can see and hear what prophets and righteous people could only long for – the Messiah that those who can see and hear are called to welcome and proclaim. Similarly, those before us passed on a passion, strength and flame that is up to us to reignite.

Likewise, our grandparents and elders “wanted to see a more just, fraternal and solidary world, and they fought to give us a future” and it is up to us not to let them down and to bear fruit, because “we are the branches that must blossom and spread new seeds of history.”

Highlighting the “unique and irreplaceable” role we all have in history, Pope Francis asked everyone to question what we are passing on to those who come after us and what kind of mark we will be leaving behind.

He added that the Lord does not want us to be mere critics of our system, closed and backwards looking, but rather “artisans of a new history, weavers of hope, builders of the future, peacemakers.”

“The real question is: am I giving life? Am I ushering into history a new and renewed love that was not there before? Am I proclaiming the Gospel in my neighbourhood? Am I freely serving others, the way those who preceded me did for me? What am I doing for our Church, our city, our society?”

A future where the elderly are not cast aside

Concluding, the Holy Father invoked the intercession of Saints Joachim to help us cherish the history that gave us life and “remind us of our spiritual duty to honour our grandparents and our elders, to treasure their presence among us in order to create a better future.”

The Pope prayed, in this light, for a future where the elderly are not cast aside because they are no longer useful and cannot produce, or one that is indifferent to the need of the aged to be cared for and listened.

He further prayed for a future in which “the history of violence and marginalization suffered by our indigenous brothers and sisters is never repeated.”

“That future is possible if, with God’s help, we do not sever the bond that joins us with those who have gone before us, and if we foster dialogue with those who will come after us,” the Pope said. “Young and old, grandparents and grandchildren, all together. Let us move forward together, and together; let us dream.”

Video of Pope Francis' arrival at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton
Full video of the Holy Mass in Edmonton, Canada
26 July 2022, 18:00