Pope Francis offers tip of the zucchetto to grandparents and the elderly

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It should come as no surprise that Pope Francis has established a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

Its first observance will be July 25, a date chosen because it’s the closest Sunday to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Mary’s dad and mom, Jesus’ grandpa and grandma.

In a lot of ways, the Church has the pontiff’s own grandmother to thank for this new annual observance. And, it seems safe to add, it’s a way Francis is showing appreciation for his own grandmother and paying tribute to her memory.

The close relationship between a young Jorge Bergoglio with his Grandma Rosa is well known. Throughout his pontificate, the Holy Father has spoken of the love they shared and the influence she had on him. Has on him.

As he’s noted: “The words of grandparents contain something special for young people. And they know it. The words that my grandmother gave me in writing the day of my priestly ordination I still carry with me, always, in the breviary. And I read them often, and they do me good.”

Yes, the world has changed so much since the 1930s and ’40s when Pope Francis was a lad, but some things haven’t. Some things never will.

Families, neighborhoods, parishes and communities are multigenerational. And those who are grandparents, those who are elders, are called to play a role, to live a vocation, by helping those who are younger. From preschoolers to “middle-agers.”

And those who are younger would be wise — would have the opportunity to become wiser — if they open their arms, their hearts, minds and souls to the lessons and love the elderly can share. Want to share.


While the theme of this year’s World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is “I am with you always” (taken from the last verses of Matthew), that can’t be said for members of the senior generation.

Yes, as with Pope Francis’ grandmother, the love and the influence can continue, but with death comes an end to the stories, the hugs, the grandpa jokes and grandma cookies. The ones that only he could tell that way, that only she could bake that way.

These treasures (people, jokes and cookies!) have a time limit.

True, in a phrase attributed to St. Thomas More, “we will merrily meet in heaven,” but between now and then ….

After a death, it’s so common for a member of a younger generation to sadly say, “I wish I had asked … I wish I had listened more … I wish I had better appreciated ….”

Opportunities and crosses

This July celebration can be a reminder to ask, to listen, to appreciate. Perhaps to do that now more than ever because in so many, many ways the world of little Jorge is gone.

If you’re a grandparent, an elder, the same holds true for the world of your childhood. Of your teen, young adult and middle-age years.

But living through that time, those times, has presented many, many opportunities. Some of you may have rushed to meet and enjoyed the challenge. Others, that you would have done just about anything to avoid, were thrust upon you. They are the crosses, large and small, that have dotted your life on earth.

Welcomed or unwelcomed, they were the seeds that, over time, over prayer, became the wisdom you have today — that is, the knowledge blessed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. Again and again, they’ve been your “personal Pentecosts.” And now, like the apostles, you’re to go out and share what you know, what you received.

Or, for not a few elders who are completely or almost completely homebound, to stay in and share what you know. To pray for and offer a helping hand — and sometimes a well-meant and gentle nudge — to a member of a younger generation.

Then, too, it’s one of the best ways to show your appreciation for the grandparents and elders who did just that for you when you were young. It’s a truly blessed way of paying tribute to their beloved memory.

A note for young and old

Now, with all that in mind, two points to consider, one for the old, one for the young:

Old folks: The youngest generation is being targeted by those who are called “social media influencers.” In days gone by, they were known as salesmen. Further back, as hawkers and hucksters. Peddling their wares (some legitimate, some not so much) door-to-door, at county fairs and such, on radio and TV, in newspapers and magazines.

Now, these online “influencers” are always there. Instant access. Instant impressions and persuasive messages.

But grandparents and the elderly are also, or can be, powerful influencers. By what they say and what they do. By how they lived and how they’re living now. Simply put, by what they value.

Grandparents have more power than they realize. As does the elderly man or woman who lives down the block (or always sits in that pew at Mass) and has a kind word for little ones. And not-so-little-ones.

A word of encouragement, gentleness or praise can pack a big wallop. A positive, love-centered lifestyle that says, “this is what’s important to me, this is what matters to me” can send a life-affirming, life-challenging or even life-changing, message.

— Young folks: “Buy one, get one free!” So to speak. Spend a little time with a member of the senior generation — if only a few minutes — and you can come away with a grain of wisdom, a glimpse of perspective, that can brighten your day, ease your worries and, maybe, even deeply enhance your life.

Plus, you will be making that senior’s day. You will have given them a tremendous gift, bigger than you can possibly imagine … until you yourself are an old-timer.

It will happen sooner than you think. Much, much sooner.

And that last point is a bit of advice from someone who finds himself there now.

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

On grandparents and the elderly
“Grandparents are a treasure. Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.”

“It is also important to promote the bond between generations. The future of a people requires the encounter between young and old: the young people are the vitality of a people ‘on the way’ and the elderly reinforce this vitality with memory and wisdom.”

“The Church regards the elderly with affection, gratitude, and high esteem. They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society: in particular they represent the roots and the memory of a people. You are an important presence, because your experience is a precious treasure, which is essential if we would look to the future with hope and responsibility. Your maturity and wisdom, accumulated over the years, can help younger people in search of their own way, supporting them on the path of growth and openness to the future.”

“One of the most beautiful things in life, in the family, in our lives, is caressing a child and letting yourself be caressed by a grandfather or a grandmother.”

— Pope Francis