My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, the Church Universal has just celebrated World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on July 25. It was the first time a global day was set aside to honor and celebrate the contribution of grandparents and the elderly to our families and society.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said he was moved to establish this day not only because of the importance of grandparents and the elderly, but particularly because of the neglect and isolation so many grandparents and seniors experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. They likely suffered the most for the strict quarantine restrictions and nursing home policies made necessary to protect them, the most vulnerable to the virus due to their age.
Many grandparents and elderly were not able to visit and hug their loved ones for months and months, and that precious time shared with loved ones was lost for them forever. Reports of elderly people having to die alone, and then not even being given a funeral right away, have been the cause of deep pain to the Church. To not be able to be close to those who suffer is at odds with our Christian calling.
This World Day is an opportunity for the Church to reaffirm what the Holy Father told grandparents and the elderly in a video message, “I am with you always.” This is the promise, found in the Gospel of Matthew, that the Lord made to His disciples and the words Pope Francis, also an elderly person, wants repeated worldwide.
There is even a hashtag, #iamwithyoualways to encourage local churches, communities, and young people to visit grandparents and the elderly as a tangible sign of compassion.
It is fitting that July 25 was chosen to honor grandparents and the elderly because it is the day before the Church commemorates the Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus Christ. It was Saints Anne and Joachim who cultivated in the young Mary a love for God, preparing her for her role as the mother of our Lord. As we reflect on the legacy of Saints Anne and Joachim, we can also reflect on the vital role played by all grandparents in completing the loving family unit and nurturing the faith of future generations.
Grandparents can play a vital role in raising their grandchildren, which we see often here in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. Many grandparents are an integral support system for parents who are managing the responsibilities of raising children and working outside of the home. This unique role makes them an important part of the Catholic laity, as they are keeping memories alive and passing on their faith, teaching their grandchildren to love the ways of the Lord and honor his commandments.
I certainly owe a lot to my own grandparents, and I was very fortunate to know all four of them, as well as my paternal great-grandmother. Each was born in Italy and all came to the United States, settling in Newark, New Jersey, married, and started wonderful families into which I was born along with my brother and sister. My grandparents provided me with a link to our roots in Italy. First, by teaching me the language and then the culture and traditions that make a person who they are in life. Sometimes, our grandparents teach us more than our parents can at particular times since they know and have the wisdom of age.
As I think back on the importance of my own grandparents in my life, I would hope that today more children can be influenced by their grandparents. Unfortunately, many people live far from parents and grandparents and this makes it more difficult to do so. I was fortunate that we lived with my maternal grandparents since I was born and always had the closeness. My paternal grandparents did not live too far away. During this world day of honoring grandparents, I fondly remember all that they taught and the love that they communicated to me and my siblings.
Older people also keep memories alive and are a connection to our roots. As Pope Francis says, the elderly “remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.” Their wisdom should be heralded and celebrated. But that is not always the case for elderly people. Many have to live in the care of others in nursing homes, without the closeness and concern of family members. Isolation of the elderly is a real problem in our society, which was further exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic.
That is why this World Day is important. The Holy Father asks Catholics to visit a grandparent or an elderly person living alone in their community, as a tangible sign of compassion and outreach. It is also an opportunity to tell the person being visited, “I am with you always,” so they know they are not alone in their journey of life. Perhaps you could also read the World Day prayer, printed here, together.
Our own SS Joachim and Anne Parish in Queens Village, honored grandparents this past week at their Masses on Sunday as did other parishes throughout the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.
Grandparents and the elderly have certainly put out into the deep their entire lives, but especially during the pandemic. While they may have felt isolated, our Lord was always with them. With this first-ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, we too are reminded to give of our time to the people who are the connection to our roots and who offer wisdom that will guide us always.