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Our Families and Our World Need the Elderly

By Sister Constance Veit

Our Families and Our World Need the Elderly

We recently celebrated Mothers’ Day with a loosening of COVID-related restrictions, allowing families to hug their loved ones, hold extended conversations without a window of separation, enjoy a snack together and even take their elderly loved one home for a few hours — all things that used to be taken for granted, but which have been prohibited since the onset of COVID.

The female residents from the many Little Sisters of the Poor senior homes received Mothers’ Day gifts of flowers, sweets and other items from our regular benefactors and people they have never even met. Children sent them handmade cards, and a local musician brought cheer by offering an open-air concert.

Each of these gestures was proof that people have not forgotten the elderly, even though they have been hidden away for so long.

Pope Francis frequently speaks about the throwaway culture and our society’s tendency to marginalize the elderly. While these trends are undeniable, we Little Sisters can testify that countless people from all walks of life continue to show concern for the elderly, even as the pandemic stretches on.

In his recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, our Holy Father wrote that no one is saved alone. He reminded us that “young people, adults and our society cannot save themselves without the elderly.”

In order to come out of the COVID crisis better and not worse, the pope said, every society needs to accept its roots and re-envision its values, starting from dialogue with the elderly.

Wishing to show his support for the role of older persons in the family, Pope Francis announced the creation of the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, which will take place each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

The voice of the elderly is precious, the pope tells us, “because it sings the praises of God and preserves the roots of the peoples.” The elderly “remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.”

The World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly fits into the Church’s larger vision for the family. In March, Pope Francis launched a year-long celebration of the family to mark the fifth anniversary of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, on the beauty and joy of love in the family.

Among the suggestions on how to “walk with families” during this special year, Vatican organizers recommend pastoral care for seniors aimed at overcoming “the throwaway culture and societal indifference” and the building of “bridges across the different stages of life.”

They also suggest enabling older persons to serve as active agents in the pastoral care of the wider community of faith.

Organizers of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year also encourage efforts to accompany “wounded families.” This suggestion seems especially timely in light of the multi-dimensional impact of the pandemic. Surely no member of the human family has been able to completely escape the suffering caused by this scourge.

I am convinced that seniors are uniquely qualified to support and accompany the wounded through these times after witnessing the wisdom and resilience of our residents during the long months of isolation.

Even seniors experiencing infirmities associated with old age can do much good simply by lending a listening ear, offering words of encouragement or praying for our broken world.

Observing the joyful family reunions taking place at our home during Mothers’ Day weekend, I realized that the elderly give much more to their families than they receive. It would be wonderful if Catholics the world over would use the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly each year to celebrate the vital role that seniors play in our families and society.


Sister Constance Veit, LSP is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor. The LSP mission is in service to the elderly, especially those who are impoverished. Visit littlesistersofthepoor.org.


Prayer for Grandparents

By Pope emeritus Benedict XVI

Lord Jesus,

you were born of the Virgin Mary,

the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.

Look with love on grandparents the world over.

Protect them! They are a source of enrichment

for families, for the Church and for all of society.

Support them!  As they grow older,

may they continue to be for their families

strong pillars of Gospel faith,

guardians of noble domestic ideals,

living treasuries of sound religious traditions.

Make them teachers of wisdom and courage,

that they may pass on to future generations the fruits

of their mature human and spiritual experience.

 

Lord Jesus,

help families and society

to value the presence and role of grandparents.

May they never be ignored or excluded,

but always encounter respect and love.

Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed

in all the years of life which you give them.

Mary, Mother of all the living,

keep grandparents constantly in your care,

accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage,

and by your prayers, grant that all families

may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland,

where you await all humanity

for the great embrace of life without end. Amen!

 

Written at the request of the Catholic Grandparents Association, 2008.