Celebrating the first Church-sponsored day of grandparents, Pope Francis said Sunday that he’s fearful of a society that treats individuals as part of a nameless crowd.
Grandparents who were in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus prayer agreed, acknowledging that they too fear being forgotten.
“How do we see our grandparents and elderly persons?” Francis asked during the homily he had prepared for the first World Day of the Grandparents and the Elderly. “When was the last time we visited or telephoned an elderly person in order to show our closeness and to benefit from what they have to tell us?”
“I worry when I see a society full of people in constant motion, too caught up in their own affairs to have time for a glance, a greeting or a hug,” he wrote. “I worry about a society where individuals are simply part of a nameless crowd, where we can no longer look up and recognize one another. 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.”
Still recovering from his July 4th intestinal surgery, Pope Francis did not celebrate the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica as originally planned. Instead, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. led the Mass and read the homily prepared by the Argentine pontiff, who at 84 has often referred to himself as elderly.
Older people are not “leftovers” to be discarded, Francis had written, defining instead as precious nourishment for families, young people and communities.
Some 2,000 people attended the Mass, including multi-generational families, older people and their caregivers. Large-print Mass booklets were made available.
“Grandparents and the elderly are not leftovers from life, scraps to be discarded,” he wrote. “They are a precious source of nourishment.”
“They protected us as we grew, and now it is up to us to protect their lives, to alleviate their difficulties, to attend to their needs and to ensure that they are helped in daily life and not feel alone,” he wrote.
In his homily, the pope urged those present to reconnect with older people, visit and call them, and to make sure they never feel discarded: all generations “will be the better for it,” he wrote.
At noon, Francis did appear from the window of the Apostolic Palace from where pope’s have traditionally led the Sunday Angelus prayer, and greeted the thousands who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Marco and Maria, in their late 70s, attended with two of their three children, and five grandchildren. Keeping with the traditional Italian custom of families getting together on Sunday, they were planning on having lunch as a group after the pope was done. They live some 10 blocks from the Vatican, and the youngest of their daughters, a chef, had stayed behind to make final preparations.
“I’ve gladly relinquished ownership of the kitchen to her!” Maria joked when speaking with Crux on Sunday, minutes before the pope’s traditional “buongiorno!”
“I’ve taught my daughter everything I know about cooking,” she said. “More importantly, however, I think I’ve taught them all what truly matters so that they can have a good life: Follow their dreams, trust their guts, and above all, love God. He’s the first thing we should think about when we wake up, and the last thing on our minds when we fall asleep.”
With her entire family blushing, she brought her voice several decibels lower to suggest this also applies for “young married couples.”
The Bianchi’s were just one of several intergenerational families present in the square, and they were not the only ones who’d fulfilled Sunday’s obligation to attend Mass before heading to the Angelus.
However, not every elderly person in St. Peter’s was there with children or grandchildren.
Paolo and Gabriella, for instance, are a couple in their 80’s “who’ve been in love for the past 45 years, even if we’ve had our fair share of fights and nights on the couch.”
“I wish our children were here,” Paolo said. “I know they’re busy, they have their lives and their own families. But when you grow old, you come to accept that you don’t have that much time left, and you want to make sure you spend it with those you love.”
With tears in his eyes, he couldn’t help but wonder “if we’d done something wrong” when raising their three children, as they sometimes feel “as Pope Francis says, that we’ve been ‘discarded’. I know that as parents we failed. Just like we all fail at most things, but well, you don’t get a do-over when you’re a father. But still. They’ve all gone to college, have good jobs, found love. We couldn’t have been that bad, right?”
Gabriella, “like a mother hen,” as her husband calls her, defended the children, saying it’s understandable that they all “have better things to do on their Sundays. That doesn’t mean they can’t give us their Mondays, or Tuesdays… I’m not picky.”
Protective of their children as a new parent would be, they asked Crux to withhold their last name: “No need to guilt them into seeing us!”
Almost as if he had heard them, at the end of the Angelus the pope urged for intergenerational dialogue, saying that without young people and grandparents talking to one another, “history does not move forward, life does not move forward: we need to take this up again, it is a challenge for our culture. Grandparents have the right to dream while watching young people, and young people have the right to the courage of prophecy from their grandparents.”