‘The future of a people requires the encounter between young people and the elderly’
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning! I rejoice to live this day of reflection and prayer with you, inserted in the context of the Feast of Grandparents. I greet you all affectionately, beginning with the Presidents of the Associations, whom I thank for their words. I express my appreciation to all those who faced difficulties and hardships in order not to miss this meeting and, at the same time, I am close to all the elderly, lonely and sick persons who were unable to move from home, but who are spiritually united to us.
The Church looks at elderly people with affection, gratitude and great esteem. They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society. I don’t know if you heard well: the elderly are an essential part of the Christian community and of society. In particular, they represent the roots and memory of a people. You are an important presence, because your experience constitutes a precious treasure, indispensable to look to the future with hope and responsibility. Your maturity and wisdom, accumulated over the years, can help the younger, supporting them on the path of growth and of openness to the future, in the search for their way. The elderly, in fact, witness that, even in the most difficult trials, one must never lose faith in God and in a better future. They are like trees that continue to bear fruit: despite the weight of the years, they can make their original contribution for a society rich in values and for the affirmation of the culture of life.
Many elderly generously use their time and the talents God has given them, to open themselves to help and support others. I am thinking of all those who make themselves available in the parishes for truly valuable service: some dedicate themselves to the adornment of the Lord’s house; others are catechists, animators of the liturgy and witnesses of charity. And what to say of their role in the family realm? How many grandparents take care of their grandchildren, transmitting with simplicity to the littlest the experience of life, the spiritual and cultural values of a community and of a people! In countries that have suffered grave religious persecution, it was the grandparents that transmitted the faith to the new generations, taking children to receive Baptism in a context of secrecy.
In a world such as the present, in which often strength and appearance are mythicized, you have the mission to witness the values that truly count and that remain for ever, because they are inscribed in the heart of every human being and guaranteed by the Word of God. Precisely as persons of the so-called third age, you or better — we because I am also part of it — are called to work for the development of the culture of life, witnessing that every stage of existence is a gift of God and has its beauty and importance, even if marked by frailty.
While many elderly, within the limits of their possibilities, continue to spend themselves for their neighbor, there are so many who live with sickness, with motor difficulties and are in need of assistance. I thank the Lord today for the many persons and structures that are dedicated to the daily service of the elderly, to foster adequate human contexts, in which each one can live worthily this important stage of their life. The institutes that house the elderly are called to be places of humanity and loving care, where the weakest individuals are not forgotten or neglected, but visited, remembered and protected as older brothers and sisters. Expressed thus is gratitude to those who have given so much to the community and are its root.
Institutions and different social realities can still do much to help the elderly to express their capacity to the utmost, to facilitate their active participation, especially so that their dignity as persons is always respected and valued. To do this, it is necessary to oppose the toxic throwaway culture, which marginalizes the elderly, considering them non-productive. Public leaders, the cultural, educational and religious realities, as well as all men of good will, are called to commit themselves to the construction of an ever more hospitable and inclusive society.
And this idea of being disposable is awful! One of my grandmothers told me this story, that in a family the grandfather lived with the [children and grandchildren]; he was a widower but he began to get sick, to get sick …, and he didn’t eat properly at the table, and some of the food spilled. One day the father <of the family> decided that the grandfather could no longer eat with them at the table, but in the kitchen, and he made a small table for the grandfather. So the family ate without the grandfather. A few days later, when the father returned home from work, he found one of his children playing with wood, nails, hammers … “But what are you doing?” — [asked the father]. The child answered: “I’m making a table.” “But why?” “For you, so that when you become old you can eat here.”
Children are naturally very attached to their grandparents and they understand things that only grandparents can explain with their life, with their attitude. The throwaway culture says: “You are old, get out.” You are old, yes, but you have so many things to say to us, to tell us, of history, of culture, of life, of values … It is not necessary to let this throwaway culture advance; there must always be an inclusive culture.
It is also important to foster the bond between generations. The future of a people requires the encounter between young people and the elderly: young people are the vitality of a people on the way and the elderly reinforce this vitality with memory and wisdom. And talk with your grandchildren, talk <with them>. Let them ask you questions. They are of a different peculiarity of our own, they do other things, they like other music …, but they are in need of the elderly, of this continuous dialogue, give them wisdom too. It does me so much good to read when Joseph and Mary took the Baby Jesus – the Baby was 40 days old – to the Temple; and they found two grandparents there [Simeon and Anna], and these grandparents were the wisdom of the people; they praised God that this wisdom could go forward with this Baby. It was grandparents who received Jesus in the Temple, not the priest: he came later. <It was> the grandparents; read this in Luke’s Gospel, it’s very beautiful!
Dear grandfathers and grandmothers, thank you for the example you give of love, of dedication and of wisdom. Continue to witness these values with courage! May society not lack your smile and the beautiful luminosity of your eyes: may society be able to see them! I accompany you with my prayer, and you too, do not forget to pray for me. And now I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon you and your intentions and plans for good.
Now we pray to Jesus’ grandmother, Saint Anne; we pray to Saint Anne who is Jesus’ grandmother, and we do so in silence for a moment. Each one ask Saint Anne to teach us to be good and wise grandparents.
[Blessing] Thank you.