Last Sunday, July 25th, marked the first observation of the Church’s annual Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. On January 31, 2021, Pope Francis made the announcement of this new event to be celebrated every year on the fourth Sunday in July. In the Vatican, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, standing in for Pope Francis, who is still recovering from an operation for colon diverticulitis.
The Archbishop read the homily which was prepared by the pope in which Francis said, “Today we need a covenant between young and old. We need to share the treasure of life, to dream together, to overcome conflicts between generations and prepare a future together.” He went on to emphasize the importance of “protecting” our grandparents, as they protected us as we grew. “Let us protect them, so that nothing of their lives and dreams may be lost.”
The Catholic Grandparents Association
In a world where elderly people are increasingly becoming more side-lined, such a day provides us with a much-needed balance regarding how the older members of our society are perceived and valued.
Grandparents play a crucial role in many families and are often, especially here in Ireland, the first choice as caregivers for their own children’s daughters and sons. Ensuring that they are respected and appreciated is one of the aims of the Catholic Grandparents Association which was officially set up in 2009 by Catherine Wiley. Their main focus is to “help grandparents pass on the faith and to keep prayer the heart of family life”.
Catherine and her husband brought their children up in Walsingham, Norfolk a mile from the English National Shrine of Our Lady. They had witnessed many pilgrimages over the years coming to visit the Shrine; diocesan, parochial, religious congregations, young people, students, the sick and challenged, national groups, and many others. In Catherine’s mind a seed began to germinate; Why not have a Grandparents’ pilgrimage?
This she duly organized for 26 July 2003, the feast of St Joachim and St Anne who as the grandparents of Jesus, have long been honoured by both the Eastern Church as well as by the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis described the unique gifts of grandparents when he said, “The grandparents have the sap of history, that rises and gives strength for the tree to grow”. Implicit in these words is acceptance of the wisdom that comes with age. Grandparents have an integral role to play in passing on the faith to their grandchildren. They are involved now more than ever because usually, both parents are working.
In the pre-Covid days, I would often see grandparents bringing the younger folk to daily Mass and in many cases, they would be taking care of them for the day. Sadly, many ‘younger’ people who are parents do not practise their faith any longer, so it is the grandparents who are ‘the faith-healers.
Several regard this as a huge responsibility. Saddened by their own children’s rejection of religious observance they are acutely aware that, in the words of the famous hymn, the ‘faith of our fathers’ is in danger again. It is ironic that that faith which people were once prepared to die for is now often reviled as superstitious nonsense, or fodder for the feeble-minded. This causes a lot of pain to those who still believe and hold it precious.
How to Pass the Baton
When we get older our perspective on life changes and issues pertaining to the meaning of it all become more urgent. The elderly who cherish their religious beliefs know that their loved ones will also someday face these issues and their dearest wish is that they will share in the same comfort which belief in the risen Christ brings.
Therefore, passing on the baton of faith becomes a labour of love.
Grandparents hold a special place in their grandchildren’s lives. Just as the father is important because he proves to the baby that there is someone ’other’ than the mother, so their grandparents introduce children to the possibility of a relationship with people who love them and have their best interests at heart. This can be very enriching for everyone concerned.
But how should grandparents navigate the tension between the desire to evangelize and the responsibility to respect boundaries? The one thing they must never do is criticize the parents in front of their grandchildren and also avoid confrontation with their own children about their parenting.
The best way is, as always, by example. Obviously by bringing them to Church, explaining the Stations of the Cross, the shrines, the candles. Tell them about the life of someone like St Martin. Read bible stories simplified for children and talk to them about the beauty of Nature and the creatures God created, who were in Eden with Him before He created Humankind.
Above all pray with them encouraging them to ask for graces and blessings for those they love, and for those they do not. Say the Rosary with them. Have statues in your home as visual reminders to your grandchildren that you are persons of faith.
“Grandparents are a treasure…the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.” – Pope Francis
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan