His Holiness, Pope Francis, has declared this Sunday the first-ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. What a blessed way of recognising those who span our past and our present and who connect us with the future as they help to lay the foundation for younger generations.
Ours is a frenetic world beset by the global pandemic, the disastrous effects of global warming, unimaginable hunger and poverty, corruption, and loneliness. Yet, it is a world which offers hope for the future.
In his message on this day of celebration, Pope Francis recognises the wealth that lies in the hands of older generations who have experienced personal and universal suffering but who have emerged with a new wisdom and the confidence that with the help of the Lord, new strength and joy can emerge.
He affirms the role that this generation can play in building “a more humane and welcoming world”, a world of immense possibility in which justice, peace and solidarity prevail.
In our country, we are very fortunate that the isolation that some elderly people suffer is not a feature of our lives. Connected intimately by the internet yet starved of actual visits by family members, older people can see themselves as useless, unwanted, and unneeded.
The pandemic has aggravated familial separation yet, paradoxically, it has also highlighted the need by all generations for a connection that comforts and offers hope in the midst of tragedy.
Grandparents, whether by blood or by ‘adoption’, are the dispensers of hugs and reassurance to their grandchildren and to communities where the young seek guidance in navigating their world.
They use their life experience to soothe the worries of new parents, to offer folk wisdom and remedies for everyday illnesses and troubles and to provide the insight that life is to be enjoyed, despite the fears and anxieties that we all endure.
Grandparents, too, are the ones who remember the significant events of our lives. Birthdays, the reception of the sacraments–Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and later, Marriage or Ordination–are occasions of joy for them. Their celebration of these occasions is a tangible recognition of the infinite value of the lives of younger generations. It establishes a precedent for the future, a precedent which upholds the beauty and sanctity of life.
One of the most important roles that grandparents and elderly people play in any society is that of prayer partner/prayer intercessor. This is especially so at those times of forgetfulness or disbelief, especially among the young, that the Lord is there for them and that He can multiply the loaves and fishes of their lives.
As they pray with and for younger generations, grandparents fulfil the mandate to care for their spiritual wellbeing and to pass on the Faith with which they have been entrusted. This invaluable legacy is the greatest gift that they can endow to their families and to others.
In some of our nation’s Presbyterian primary schools, a day of tribute celebrating the love and respect between grandchildren and their grandparents is an established part of the academic calendar. Grandparents are proudly led into the school compound by the little ones as values and virtues are transmitted from one generation to another.
Pope Francis endorses, by his formal declaration of this occasion, the part that older generations must play in the renewal of hope and the rebirth of society. It is acknowledged that the family is the cornerstone of society and the collaboration between generations offers the strength and hope for which our troubled world longs.