ORLANDO | Take a moment to think about your grandparents and other elderly people in your life. Perhaps they are living or have passed on to eternity. What did they teach you? How were they examples of love, tenderness and faith?
In his message for the second World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated July 24, Pope Francis calls this generation “teachers of tenderness”, reminding us, “Aging is not a condemnation, but a blessing!”
Living out his words at age 86, Pope Francis, said, “For this reason, we ought to take care of ourselves and remain active in our later years. This is also true from a spiritual standpoint: we ought to cultivate our interior life through the assiduous reading of the word of God, daily prayer, reception of the Sacraments and participation in the liturgy.”
Taking his words to heart, Mary Drewry, a parishioner of St. John Neumann Parish in Lakeland, joined the Lay Ecclesial Ministry (LEM), a three-year program designed to equip people for positions in ministry and within the Church. And she is not the only elderly person in the class.
“I am never too old to learn about the Lord and our beautiful Catholic faith,” said the 73-year-old grandmother of eight. Her desire to learn more comes from her “personal relationship with Jesus”. Her purpose: “to evangelize (my) grandchildren, make sure they are catechized, that they know the Lord so they can follow in His footsteps. God is good and they need to know that there is a God and that He is there for them, all the time,” she said.
Starting each day surrendering in prayer, she helps in the religious formation of two of her grandchildren, ages 7 and 11. For her it is “an act of love for the Father and for (her) grandchildren.”
“God has given me grace and that is my gift, to be a teacher and evangelize my whole family,” she said. “The Lord doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.”
This is certainly true for Francine Di Scala, who noted, “In my older years, I suddenly want to know more about religion.” At 79, despite not being able to drive, Summerfield’s St. Mark the Evangelist parishioner coordinates all the religious adult formation programs from her iPad. She attends many of the sessions while serving several ministries. She does so, “to get to heaven.”
“(Learning) is carrying me to a better place in my life. I feel more comfortable and at ease with what I’m doing. I’m not afraid anymore,” she said.
Deacon John Bigelow says this is a common response for St. Mark’s parishioners, most of whom are age 70 or older. The parish has strong attendance at bible studies, many on themes of deepening one’s spirituality through a life of prayer, living sacramentally, and increasing knowledge of the faith. And outreach is tremendous. Deacon Bigelow, who leads some of the classes, noted more than 80 men attended the most recent retreat. He sees many passing on their knowledge to children and grandchildren.
“We can see the parishioners of my age trying to instill into the younger generation how society was when we grew up. We want to bring back the values… living life in peace among our neighbors, against violence, valuing the life of every person, and the unborn.”
This resonates with the pope’s directive. “The special sensibility that those of us who are elderly have for the concerns, thoughts and the affections that make us human should once again become the vocation of many. It would be a sign of our love for the younger generations,” the pope said. “This would be our own contribution to the revolution of tenderness, a spiritual and non-violent revolution in which I encourage you, dear grandparents and elderly persons, to take an active role.”
Noting Ps. 92:15, Pope Francis reminds the elderly, “In old age they will still bear fruit.”
For Christine K. of Holy Family Parish in Orlando, the fruit of her 67 years is raising her children, and now her granddaughter. She said making Catholic education a priority for Olivia “is key” in her upbringing. The 13-year old is an altar server, takes part in numerous activities, and spends quality time with Christine. Olivia said her grandmother displays her tenderness by taking care of her since she was a baby. “She takes care of me every day, sends me to school, and spends so much time with me. She cares a lot, and I can tell by how she acts.”
To honor Christine, Olivia tries to do her best in school and spends quality time with her cooking, crafting, and learning “how to be a functioning human being,” Olivia said.
Recognizing, we are not saved alone, Christine said raising Olivia has deepened her prayer life and encouraged her to rely more on God’s guidance.
Pope Francis closed saying, “We grandparents and elderly people have a great responsibility: to teach the women and men of our time to regard others with the same understanding and loving gaze with which we regard our own grandchildren. We ourselves have grown in humanity by caring for others, and now we can be teachers of a way of life that is peaceful and attentive to those in greatest need.
“The World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly is an opportunity to proclaim once more, with joy, that the Church wants to celebrate together with all those whom the Lord – in the words of the Bible – has ‘filled with days’.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, July 22, 2022