Grandparents and the Elderly

Alliances stem from listening to one another: World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly close to the Lisbon WYD

An interview with Under-secretary Gambino commenting on the Holy Father's Message for the upcoming World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly
Photo: Siciliani-Gennari/SIR

Photo: Siciliani-Gennari/SIR



Yesterday Pope Francis' Message for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, scheduled for July 23 under the theme "His mercy is from age to age" (Lk 1:50), was published. The Day precedes the Youth Day in Lisbon by a few days. The proximity of the dates seems such a happy coincidence. In order to reflect on the bond between young people and the elderly, often invoked by the Pope, SIR interviewed Gabriella Gambino, Under-secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

by Daniele Rocchi - SIR (Servizio Informazione Religiosa)

“To you, the young who are preparing to meet in Lisbon or to celebrate World Youth Day in your own countries, I would ask: before you set out on your journey, visit your grandparents or an elderly person who lives alone!” This appeal to the young people about to leave for the WYD in Lisbon is included in Pope Francis' Message for the Third World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, scheduled for July 23 on the theme “His mercy is from age to age” (Lk 1:50).  This is how the Pope emphasizes the closeness between the celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly and the World Youth Day: “Both celebrations – affirms Pope Francis - remind us of the “haste” with which Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth. In this way, they invite us to reflect on the bond that unites young and old. The Lord trusts that young people, through their relationships with the elderly, will realize that they are called to cultivate memory and recognize the beauty of being part of a much larger history”. This is not the first time the Pope has called for this generational 'alliance' because, as Gabriella Gambino, Under-secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, explains to SIR, "without the elderly, the future of young people lacks a fundamental part of their growth: the memory of the past, which are their roots."


World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly (July 23) and the WYD (Aug. 1-6), two events of great ecclesial importance one after the other. The alliance, so often invoked by Pope Francis, between young and old, finds further resonance this year in the WYD. What is the common thread linking these two Days?

This year the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is “His mercy is from age to age” (Lk 1:50). The celebration dedicated to grandparents and the elderly will take place just days before the start of the WYD in Lisbon, which has the theme "Mary arose and went with haste". So, both Days revolve around the visit of the young Mary of Nazareth to her elderly cousin Elizabeth, the joy of the Magnificat, and the solicitude of the young woman visiting an older woman. In the Pope's message to young people on their way to the WYD, he writes that "Mary’s visit and Elizabeth’s greeting open our eyes to the dawn of salvation: in their embrace, God’s mercy quietly breaks into human history amid abundant joy". The embrace between the two mothers is a sign of great hope that is given to the world.


In his Message for the upcoming WYD in Lisbon, Pope Francis described young people as the "hope for new unity within our fragmented and divided human family. But only if they can preserve memory, only if they can hear the dramas and dreams of the elderly". How important is the alliance between young and old in order not to forget the lessons learned from history?

Without the elderly, the future of young people lacks a fundamental element for their growth: the memory of the past, which represents their roots. The symbolic link between the two Days underscores not only that no one alone ever saves themselves, because each of us weaves bonds in our lives that draw others into our journey, but above all it reminds us that no one can save themselves on their own. Our personal history of salvation is one rooted in distant places and times from the past, with which we must learn to come to terms in order to be sound and conscious people, capable of looking ahead and building a future of good, for ourselves and for others. More recent history, marked once again by violent wars, the inability to come to the aid of those forced to flee their homelands and to stand by those who are most fragile, is a sign that we have learned little from the lessons of history, where these tragedies have already occurred.


How can we help young people to treasure history?

We need to cultivate in young people not only a careful understanding of the past, but also the courage to draw a prophetic vision of the future from this history, a different vision of human relations, in which universal values such as brotherhood, solidarity and first and foremost respect for every human life can be put back at the center. This capacity needs a genesis, a beginning, which takes shape when a child sits in front of his grandfather and listens to him in silence, interested in the stories of events so far back in time that left an imprint and a lesson in the life of that grandfather and their family. The alliance is born out of listening, amazement, reflection and a vision.


The elderly have been called by the Pope "a gift" whose richness is often forgotten. How can young people become a gift to the elderly?

In his Message, the Pope writes that “the presence of a young person in their lives can give them hope that their experience will not be lost and that their dreams can find fulfilment”. Young people are an incentive not to dwell on the advancing weakness or sorrow over life's missed opportunities. This is also the case in our experience. A child can be crucial in making sure that grandparents or the elderly of the community do not close themselves away in the confines of their own homes, alone and abandoned, rather stay connected to the community, to the family, feeling part of a context in which they have a voice and space.

In a friendship with a young person, the older person can rediscover the enthusiasm for a great ideal; the wonder of beginning new projects; the joy of a faith and life witness that becomes a lesson for new generations. The elderly are irreplaceable, and a young person with his or her gaze and fondness, after all, says this: grandfather, I need you!


Why is it important in today's world for the young and the old to come together? And what should this meeting be based upon?

The Holy Father has long reminded us of the urgency of an intergenerational alliance. It will, Pope Francis says, "save the human family." We must believe this and invest our efforts, as Church and as laity, so that this wounded and torn humanity may rediscover hope through the memory and experience that the elderly offer to the young, in order not to repeat the errors already committed and to find a new path together. The wisdom and prudence that must guide history arise from the experience of encounter, not from the pride that flows from believing only in oneself and one's own abilities. However, this encounter is possible when we see value in the other.


In his Message for this year's World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, the Holy Father urges young people not to leave the elderly alone and to go and greet them before they leave for the World Youth Day in Lisbon...

This is a gesture intended to concretely express the closeness necessary to begin a true and lasting encounter. The Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life invites all dioceses, parishes, communities and families to be creative in facilitating this encounter. In fact, it is from this encounter that the joy of God’s mercy bursts out into the world.

In joining the call of Pope Francis, the Dicastery also invites all dioceses, parishes, associations and communities to celebrate the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly with a solemn Mass together with grandparents and the elderly, inviting young people to visit the lonely elderly in their communities, while on the occasion of the World Youth Day, the elderly are invited to pray especially for the young, thus accompanying them on their pilgrimage to Lisbon. Some pastoral tools useful in preparing for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly are available on the Dicastery's website


16 June 2023
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