(Vatican Radio) A brilliantly sunlit St. Peter’s Square was the scene Sunday morning for a great gathering of senior citizens – and especially grandparents – who had come to Rome to be with Pope Francis, to exchange life stories and hear the Holy Father’s reflections on the importance, the struggles, and the beauty of life in the old age. People of every state in life were present: elderly clergy and religious, including Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI; single people; married couples, including a couple of elderly refugees from Iraq, Mubarak and Aneesa Hano, Christians from the country’s north who have been forced to flee their home by Islamic State militants; and widows and widowers.
“Old age, in particular, is a time of grace,” said Pope Francis, “in which the Lord will renew His call: He calls us to preserve and transmit the faith, calls us to pray, especially to intercede; calls us to be close to those who maybe in need.” The Holy Father went on to warn against losing sight of and appreciation for the inestimable worth of those, who are in the twilight of life. “A people that does not have care for [the elderly], that does not treat them well, has no future: such a people loses its memory and its roots.”
The key role of grandparents in passing down the faith to a new generation was another major theme of Pope Francis' address, and the central the theme of remarks made by the founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association, Catherine Wiley. Click here for our exclusive interview with Mrs. Wiley.
Please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Holy Father’s remarks, below.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
I thank you for coming in such large numbers! And thank you for your festive welcome. Today this is your celebration. It is our celebration! I thank His Excellency Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President Pontifical Council For the Family and all those who have prepared this ceremony.
I listened to the testimonies of some of you and was struck by the common experiences of many seniors and grandparents. But one was different: that of the brethren from Erbil (i.e. is the largest city and capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq). They escaped violent persecution in Iraq. To all of them we say together, "thank you" It is really special that you have come to be with us here. This is a gift to the Church. In turn, we offer you our sympathy, our prayers and practical help. It is inhuman to abuse Elders just as it is inhuman to abuse children. But God will not abandon you. He is with you! With God’s help, you are and will continue to be the memory for your people; and also for us, the great family of the Church. Thank you!
These brethren here testify that even in the most difficult tests, the elderly who have faith are like trees that continue to bear fruit. And this is true even in the most ordinary of situations where, there may be other forms of temptations and other forms of discrimination. We have heard some such witnesses today.
Old age, in particular, is a time of grace, in which the Lord will renew his call: calls us to preserve and transmit the faith, calls us to pray, especially to intercede; calls us to be close to those who maybe in need. The elderly – grandparents [especially] – have a capacity to understand the most difficult situations: a great ability – and when they pray for these situations, their prayer is strong. It is powerful.
To Grandparents, who have been blessed to see their children's children (cf. Ps 128.6), to them are entrusted an even greater task: to convey the experience of life, the story of a family, the story of a community or even of a people; to share with simplicity their wisdom and the same faith which is the most precious legacy! Blessed are those families who have grandparents nearby! The grandfather is in a way twice a father and the grandmother is twice a mother.
But it is not always the case that the elderly, the grandfather, grandmother has a family that can accommodate them or upon which they can count. So we welcome the houses for the elderly ... so that they can truly be homes, not prisons! We hope that these homes will truly serve the interests of older persons and not the interests of someone else! There must never be institutions where the elderly are forgotten, hidden or neglected. I feel close to the many elderly people who live in these institutions, and I think with gratitude of those who go to visit them and take care of them. Homes for the elderly should be the "lungs" of humanity in a country, in a neighborhood, in a parish; "sanctuaries" of humanity where those who are old and weak are cared for and taken care of like a brother or a sister. It's good for you to go and visit senior citizens! Look at young people: sometimes seem miserable and sad: Go visit an elderly person and you will become joyful!
But there is also the reality of the abandonment of the elderly: how many times we discard older people with attitudes that are akin to a hidden form of euthanasia! The culture of discarding human beings hurts our world. We discard children, young people and older people under the pretense of maintaining a "balanced", economic system the center of which is no longer the human person, but money. We are all called to counter this culture of poisonous waste!
We Christians, together with all people of good will, are called to patiently build a more diverse, more welcoming, more humane, more inclusive society, that does not need to discard the weak in body and mind. On the contrary we need a society which measures its success on how the weak are cared for.
As Christians and as citizens, we are called to envision, with imagination and wisdom, ways of dealing with this challenge. A people who do not take care for grandparents, does not treat them well has no future: such a people loses its memory and its roots. But beware: you too have the responsibility to keep alive these roots in yourself with prayer, the reading of the Gospel and the works of mercy. It is only is such a manner that we will remain as living trees, that even in old age will not stop bearing fruit.