Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Editorial: Gift of the elderly

  • February 11, 2021

There are few more heartwarming scenes than grandparents hugging their grandkids, moments of unconditional love expressed in an embrace between old and young.

Unfortunately, it’s not been a scene we have seen as often in the past year thanks to the pandemic, but Pope Francis has thankfully wrapped his arms around the family once again with his declaration of a World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly to be celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of July.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, when the world’s older populations have been ravaged by a virus that has killed so many and often meant our senior citizens were isolated from family and loved ones. The tragedy of this pandemic has made us all more aware of the value of our older population and our responsibility to care and nurture that connection between generations.

“Grandparents are often forgotten,” the Pope said Jan. 31 as he pronounced the World Day, “and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on.”

In Canada, there are more than 7.5 million grandparents, according to Statistics Canada, and about five per cent live in a household with their grandchildren.

“Their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and safeguards the roots of peoples,” said the Pope. “They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.”

The Pope’s official recognition of the day was greeted with more than delight by Catherine Wiley, founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association. Established in 2003, the Ireland-based ministry has spread to more than 60 countries, including Canada.

“I firmly believe that grandparents and the elderly are needed now more than ever, not just as teachers of the faith, but as fountains of wisdom and sensibility — qualities which our world needs these days,” Wiley said after the Pope’s announcement.

“For this new celebration to be marked so close to the Feast Day of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus, is a source of great joy for all of us.”

There will be cynics who may shrug off this day as just a symbolic checkmark on the universal Church calendar. After all, the Catholic calendar is full of “World Days” for various causes.  A sampling: Peace (Jan. 1), Consecrated Life (Feb. 6-7), the Sick (Feb. 11), Prayer for Vocations (April 25), Communications (May 16), Prayer for the Care of Creation (Sept. 1), Migrants and Refugees (Sept. 26), Missions (Oct. 24), Youth (Nov. 21).

Make no mistake, none of these days were created for symbolism. They are calls to action, meant to inspire Catholics toward a greater understanding of — and contribution to — initiatives and segments of society vital to our humanity.

Adding a day for grandparents and the elderly is certainly fitting, especially during a year dedicated to family with the fifth anniversary of the Pope’s encyclical The Joy of Love.

This is one hug we all needed.

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