By Salvatore Cernuzio
Of the ten years of his pontificate, the 2014 meeting with the elderly in St Peter’s Square was “one of the most beautiful moments”, said Pope Francis recently. It was he who wanted to establish a world day dedicated to all grandparents, to draw attention to a category all too often placed on the margins, remembering instead their value and encouraging actions in their favour. It is a goal maintained throughout the various editions of the day, which now returns with its third edition on July 23, featuring a Mass celebrated by the pope in St Peter’s Square.
“His mercy is from age to age” (Lk 1:50) is the theme chosen for this year. This choice was intended to connect the Rome event to the great celebration of the World Youth Day in Lisbon (Aug. 1–6), and in other words to ideally put young and old ‘in dialogue’, as the pope has always desired. This was pointed out to Vatican media by Gleison De Paula Souza, appointed secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life last November.
Q: What does this theme mean?
A: The theme was chosen to be in tune with that of World Youth Day in Lisbon: Mary arose and went with haste, taken from Luke’s Gospel. Even the short passage “His mercy from age to age” is taken from Luke’s Gospel and is the end of the first part of the Magnificat, when Mary immediately goes to meet her elderly cousin Elizabeth after the angel’s annunciation. Thus, it is a theme that highlights the importance of dialogue between generations, which is fundamental for perceiving and contemplating God’s merciful action on behalf of human beings. Indeed, dialogue between the elderly and the young helps to obtain a more complete vision of the way in which a more humane and fraternal society can be built.
Q: You mentioned the WYD in Lisbon. How does Grandparents’ Day relate to the event that will bring together young people from five continents in Portugal?
A: First of all, these events occur close to one another: the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated on July 23 and World Youth Day on August 1. However, there is more than just the timeline connection… I looked into it and was told that Pope Francis spoke publicly for the first time about the elderly at the 2013 WYD in Rio, pointing out the need for a relationship between the elderly and the young, where the former pass on wisdom and life experience; the latter, strength and hope for the future. The link between the two events, therefore, stems from this awareness: young and old need one another.
Q: Let’s go back to Grandparents’ Day. The pope wanted to establish it to promote a category that is often cast aside, marginalised, and further undermined. How has this initiative fostered action and attention towards the elderly?
A: The pope has always cherished this theme. Since the beginning of his pontificate, he has insisted on overcoming the “throwaway culture” and embarking on a culture of relationships. Today we all know that we live in a society where the elderly are not at the centre. The Holy Father’s reflection prompts us to ask some soul-searching questions: What do we do for the elderly? How do we take care of them? Do our elderly feel lonely? Do they truly have dignity?
Here, we have to put the elderly person at the centre and learn from them, and have the desire to think about them and desire to know how they are doing. These, in my opinion, are some of the fruits that the pope’s reflection has encouraged in each of us. The day also serves to introduce into our hearts the desire to think and look for solutions for giving greater dignity to our grandparents.
Q: How can one concretely restore dignity? Headlines tell of cases of elderly people abandoned before and even after death, cases of loneliness… Just this morning the pope also condemned their being excluded from medical care. So how can the pope’s call to put the elderly at the centre be concretely implemented, even at the pastoral and diocesan levels?
A: Unfortunately, not all people, not all institutions, pay close attention to the situation of “grandparents”. This is why Pope Francis emphasised the unpleasant scourge of the “throwaway culture”. Therefore, at this time the Church has the duty to pastorally assist, be close and give the necessary support to so many elderly people. The Holy Father insists and invites all dioceses to concretely organisd the pastoral care of the elderly, where they are the protagonists. A starting point is that every diocese, every parish and church community can celebrate Grandparents’ Day by rejoicing, thus making it the right time to thank grandparents for all they have done and still do for the Church and society. Then it is also an excellent opportunity to initiate pastoral reflection about them, for them and with them. That of the elderly is not just an issue that concerns the Church; the elderly also need political support.
Q: What do you as a dicastery propose and request from institutions even in order to achieve something concrete? Perhaps together…
A: Yes, we do speak as a dicastery, but it is the Holy Father himself who has said many times in his speeches that it is necessary to create public policies in favor of the elderly. The demands are pension plans, which can be improved, access to free or lower-priced medication, physical support, and time to spend together. In short, there are many resources that can be created to give the elderly some dignity. The task of our dicastery is to ask all churches and institutions to have this care for the elderly, to be close to them and to defend them as well.