28 July 2021

On Sunday, July 25th, Pope Francis celebrated the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which he instituted earlier this year. This was an important milestone in the pontificate of Pope Francis, who has focused on pastoral work in the life of the Church and made a priority of engaging people at the margins of society. During eighteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures in response to it, the elderly often found themselves effectively alienated, ostracized, and marginalized. These months have also laid bare the rampant scourge of loneliness, which has long plagued the people of Europe but never so obviously as when the EU’s citizens were confined to their homes. Even now, millions of the elderly still remain isolated from their families and grandchildren.

The alienation of the elderly contrasts with the esteem that they deserve. Grandparents are living links between their families and the history, culture, and traditions they inherited from their own parents and grandparents. As Pope Francis wrote in his homily during the Mass for the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly,

Our grandparents and the elderly have looked at our lives with that same gaze. That is how they cared for us, ever since we were children. Despite lives of hard work and sacrifice, they were never too busy for us, or indifferent to us. They looked at us with care and tender love. When we were growing up and felt misunderstood or fearful about life’s challenges, they kept an eye on us; they knew what we were feeling, our hidden tears and secret dreams. They held us in their arms and sat us on their knees. That love helped us grow into adulthood… Our grandparents, who nourished our own lives, now hunger for our attention and our love; they long for our closeness. Let us lift up our eyes and see them, even as Jesus sees us.

The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly coincides with the Roman Catholic Feast Day of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary and thus the maternal grandparents of Jesus Christ. The World Day is thus a reaffirmation by the Church of the quintessential importance of the elderly, especially grandparents, in modern society.

Saints Joachim and Anne are the model of good parenting and grandparenting, standing alongside the Holy Family of Nazareth as an example for all families. They point to the role of older generations in strengthening family, culture, history, and faith. Furthermore, they make present the importance of intergenerational solidarity,

It is against this background that the European Commission and other European institutions must firm up their support for grandparents and the elderly especially by investing in the family. As FAFCE pointed out in its joint webinar with COMECE, “without intergenerational solidarity there is no real human, economic, and social development.” For this reason, FAFCE has devoted additional attention in recent months to the importance of the elderly in the life of Europe by publishing a reflection paper on “The Elderly and the Future of Europe”. Moreover, FAFCE’s Board Resolution of May 2021 titled “The Family is the Democratic and Demographic Future of Europe” affirms the “the essential role of the elderly” and emphasises that “Grandparents and parents play a key role in transmitting knowledge and cultural memory, affirmed by their experience of charity, peace, justice and solidarity.” FAFCE also welcomes the European Parliament’s important step toward greater solidarity with Europe’s elderly in its approval of the Old Continent Growing Older.

The holy couple, Saints Joachim and Anne, transmitted to Mary wisdom and the fear of God, among other virtues, which she then transmitted to her son, the saviour and redeemer of the world. The family history of Jesus makes clear that the strivings and sacrifices of grandparents bear rich fruit, even when their effect is not immediately visible. Thus, the steady, hidden virtue of Saints Joachim and Anne paved the way for the mission and ministry of God Himself.

FAFCE hopes that their story, which is Europe’s story, will move Europeans and the institutions representing them at the EU to be bold in promoting the family, affirming intergenerational solidarity, upholding human dignity, and showing love for the elderly.

Image: St. Joachim and St. Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Painting by Abraham Willemsen