Retired pontiff Benedict XVI joined some 50,000 pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday, Sept. 28 for a meeting between Pope Francis and elderly people from around the world. Welcoming his predecessor, the Holy Father described Pope Benedict as the “grandfather of all grandfathers.” “I have said many times that it gives me great pleasure that he lives here in the Vatican, because it is like having a wise grandfather at home. Thank you!” Gathered together in front of Saint Peter's Basilica beneath the sunny September sky, pilgrims heard from a number of people who gave witness of their own experiences, interspersed with musical interludes which included performances by Andrea Bocelli. One of the motifs of the morning's events centered on an icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This image, which stood beside the altar, depicted Mary and Joseph presenting the child Jesus to the elderly prophets, Simeon and Anna. This icon will also be present on the square next Sunday during the opening Mass for the Synod on the Family. Addressing the crowds, the Pope recalled the series of testimonies which had been given over the course of the morning, taking special note of those from the people of Erbil, Iraq, who had escaped violent persecution. “To all of these together we express a special 'thank you!'! It is very good that you have come here today: it is a gift for the Church.” Like violence against children, the Pope said, “violence against the elderly is inhuman.” “But God does not abandon you, and He is with you! With his help you are and continue to be the memory for your people; and also for us, the great family of the Church.” The Pope noted the faith of these elderly persons, comparing it to “trees which continue to bear fruit,” as they give witness even amid the “most difficult trials.” “And this is true even in the most ordinary of situations, where there might be other temptations, and other forms of discrimination.” “Old age, in particular, is a time of grace, in which the Lord renews us in his call: he calls us to protect and transmit the faith, he calls us to pray, especially to intercede; he calls us to be close to those in need.” The elderly and grandparents have the “the capacity to understand the most difficult situations,” he said, adding that their prayer “is strong” and “powerful!” To grandparents in particular, the Pope entrusted a “great task: to transmit life experience, the history of a family, of a community, of a people; to share wisdom with simplicity, and the same faith: the most precious legacy!” It is a blessing, when a family keeps its grandparents close. “The grandfather is twice father, and the grandmother is twice mother,” the Holy Father said. Recalling last Sunday's visit to Albania, where grandparents would baptize the children in secret, he said: “Well done! (These grandparents) were brave amid persecution and saved the faith in their country!” Pope Francis noted that not all elderly persons and grandparents have a family which can take care of them. Therefore, “we welcome houses for the elderly... so long as they are truly houses, and not prisons!”These homes should not be institutions where the elderly are “forgotten, hidden, or neglected.” The Holy Father expressed his closeness to those living in these institutions, and his gratitude for those who take care of them. These homes ought to be the “lungs” and “sanctuaries” of humanity, in which the old and weak are cared for. The Pope also recommended that young people, when they are “miserable and sad,” go and visit the elderly to “become joyful.” Pope Francis warned against the reality of the abandonment of the elderly, describing it as a “hidden euthanasia,” the effect of a “culture which discards” human beings: children, unemployed youth, and elderly persons are discarded on the pretense of maintaining a system of economic “balance”. The center of this culture is no longer “the human person,” but “money.” “We are all called to counter this poisonous culture of waste,” the Pope said. All Christians and “men of good will” are called to create a society that, in contrast, is “more welcoming, more human, more inclusive,” one which “does not need to discard” those who are physically or mentally weak, those who are old: “a society which measures its success” according to according to the care given to these persons. A people which does not care for its grandparents, Pope Francis said, jeopardizes its future by doing away with its memory, as well as its roots. He warned: “You have the responsibility of keeping these roots alive in yourselves” through prayer, the Gospel, and works of mercy. In this way, we are like “living trees,” which will continue to bear fruit even in old age.
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