By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER — Pope Francis has designated this Sunday, July 25 as World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. The Holy Father’s message for the first such day in the Catholic Church is themed, “I am with you always,” (Mt 28:20).
In a letter to dioceses across the world, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, said, “We have chosen to give pride of place to the local celebration of this [Day], so as to ensure that its joyous message reaches every grandparent and elderly person effectively, even the most isolated. With this in mind, it would be especially meaningful if, as the [Day] approaches, the message that was announced today — ‘I am with you always’ (cf. Mt. 28:20) — could be delivered by every grandchild to their own grandparents, and by young people to the lonely elderly members of their communities.
“Additionally, it would be appropriate for every parish to dedicate one of their Sunday Masses to grandparents and the elderly on Sunday 25 July, as the memorial of Saints Joachim and Ann, grandparents of Jesus, approaches.”
The pope, himself 84 years old, has a clear message for grandparents and elderly folks around the world, “I want to tell you that you are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow; the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm [pandemic] has subsided.
“Among the pillars that support this new edifice, there are three that you, better than anyone else, can help to set up. Those three pillars are dreams, memory and prayer. The Lord’s closeness will grant to all, even the frailest among us, the strength needed to embark on a new journey along the path of dreams, memory and prayer.”
The pope tells grandparents and elderly that their dreams of justice, peace and solidarity can make it possible for “our young people to have new visions; in this way, together, we can build the future.”
With regards to memory, the pope says they are intertwined with dreams. “I think of the painful memory of war, and its importance for helping the young to learn the value of peace. Those among you who experienced the suffering of war must pass on this message. Keeping memory alive is a true mission for every elderly person: keeping memory alive and sharing it with others.”
Of his own grandparents, Pope Francis said, “I also think of my own grandparents, and those among you who had to emigrate and know how hard it is to leave everything behind, as so many people continue to do today, in hope of a future. Some of those people may even now be at our side, caring for us. These kinds of memory can help to build a more humane and welcoming world. 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.”
The pope quoted his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who said that the prayer of the elderly can protect our world, helping it, in fact, better than “the frenetic activity of many others.” Pope Francis expanded on this thought, saying, “There is something beautiful here. Your [grandparents’ and the elderly’s] prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need. Especially in these difficult times for our human family, as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic, your intercession for the world and for the Church has great value: it inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore.”
The pope concluded his message to grandparents and the elderly referencing Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a hermit who lived in Algeria, who said he had a deep desire to feel himself “a brother to all.”
The pope concluded his message, “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.
“I ask the Lord that, also 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 Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life produced a list of recommendations for Catholic faithful to help grandparents and the elderly celebrate this special day. That list follows.
How Catholic faithful can help others celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly
• The first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated in circumstances in which it will still not be possible in many countries for the elderly to physically attend Mass.
• In order for the message of closeness and consolation to reach everyone on this World Day — even those who are most isolated — we ask people to visit their grandparents and the elderly living alone in their community and to give them the Holy Father’s message (at Vatican.com).
• A visit is a tangible sign of a Church of outreach. At a time of social distancing because of the pandemic, a visit shows that there is a way of being close to older people while still observing safety measures.
• A visit is a personal choice to arise and go in haste to others (cf. Lk 1:39), just as Mary did when she visited her elderly cousin Elizabeth.
• A visit is an opportunity for a grandchild to say to his or her grandparent and for a young person to say to an elderly person they are visiting, “I am with you always”.
• A visit can be an opportunity to bring a gift, such as a flower, and to read the World Day prayer (available on this page) together.
— A visit can also be an occasion to offer the elderly, especially those who have not left their homes for a long time, an opportunity to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
• A visit to an older person living alone is one of the ways of obtaining a Plenary Indulgence granted on the occasion of this World Day.
• In places where health emergency measures still make it impossible to visit in person, love can use imagination to find ways of reaching lonely elderly people by phone and social media.
• The World Day message can be shared by posting pictures of visits on social media with the hashtag #IamWithYouAlways.