A Papal Salute to Grandparents
by David Gibson
Grandparents the world over were saluted by Pope Francis during his July 22-29 visit to Brazil, where he participated in activities of the 28th World Youth Day, held in Rio de Janeiro.
“How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family,” he said in remarks July 26.
Speaking to tens of thousands of people gathered outside the residence of the archbishop of Rio for the noontime Angelus prayer on the feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Virgin Mary, Pope Francis described the relationship between the old and the young as “a treasure to be preserved and strengthened.”
“Young people,” he said, “salute their grandparents with great affection, and they thank them for the ongoing witness of their wisdom.”
He recalled that the concluding document of the 2007 general conference of Latin America’s bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, stressed the importance both of children and the elderly for the future of all of us. The role of children is vital “because they lead history forward,” while the elderly are vital “because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives,” the Aparecida document stated.
It was not the first time during his July visit to Brazil that Pope Francis accented the essential roles not only of the young, who, naturally, are central to World Youth Day, but of the old. In fact, in the few months since his election as pope, he has spoken out on the valuable role of grandparents and of the elderly a number of times.
Sometimes the pope mentions his own grandmother and the role she played in nurturing his faith. Other times his accent is on the role of older people in sharing with the young the insights gained over the course of decades.
Pope Francis spoke July 22 with the journalists aboard his flight from Rome to Rio de Janeiro. The purpose of his visit to Brazil was to meet the young participants in World Youth Day, he said. However, that did not mean meeting them “in isolation from their lives,” he explained.
“I would rather meet them within their social context, in society,” Pope Francis said to the journalists. His reason was that “when we isolate the young, we do them an injustice; we take away their ‘belonging.’” And “the young do belong. They belong to a family, to a homeland, to a culture, to a faith; they belong in all sorts of ways, and we must not isolate them,” he said. Truly, he added, they “are the future of a people.”
However, “at the other end of life — the elderly — they too are the future of a people,” the pope commented during his in-flight interview. He said:
“A people has a future if it goes forward with both elements: with the young, who have the strength, and things move forward because they do the carrying; and with the elderly because they are the ones who give life’s wisdom.”
The Pope’s Grandmother
Pope Francis mentioned the role of his paternal grandmother, Rosa, in his life when he spoke in St. Peter’s Square May 18, the vigil of Pentecost, to an estimated 200,000 members of church movements. He was asked on that occasion how he came to have faith.
“I had the great blessing of growing up in a family in which faith was lived in a simple, practical way. However it was my paternal grandmother in particular who influenced my journey of faith,” he said. He recalled her as someone “who explained to us, who talked to us about Jesus, who taught us the catechism.”
Pope Francis said he always remembers how, “on the evening of Good Friday, she would take us to the candle-light procession, and at the end of this procession ‘the dead Christ’ would arrive, and our grandmother would make us — the children — kneel down, and she would say to us, ‘Look, he is dead, but tomorrow he will rise.’”
This, the pope continued, was how he received his “first Christian proclamation.” It came “from this very woman, from my grandmother,” he told the crowd that evening.
That, he added, “is really beautiful! The first proclamation at home, in the family!”
It prompted him to “think of the love of so many mothers and grandmothers in the transmission of faith. They are the ones who pass on the faith,” he stressed.
He noted that “this used to happen in the early church too, for St. Paul said to Timothy, ‘I am reminded of the faith of your mother and of your grandmother’ (cf. 2 Tm 1:5).”
Pope Francis urged “all the mothers and all the grandmothers” present at the Pentecost vigil to “think about this: passing on the faith!” The fact is, he suggested to them, that “God sets beside us people who help us on our journey of faith.”
Thus, “we do not find our faith in the abstract, no!” Pope Francis said that “it is always a person preaching who tells us who Jesus is, who communicates faith to us and gives us the first proclamation. And this is how I received my first experience of faith.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.