Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am happy to be together with you to experience this day of reflection and prayer, placed in the context of Grandparents Day. I greet you all with affection, starting with the Presidents of the Associations, whom I thank for their words. I express my appreciation to those who have faced difficulties and hardships in order not to miss this event; and at the same time I am close to all elderly persons, who, because they are ill or on their own, could not move from home, but who are spiritually united with us.
The Church regards the elderly with affection, gratitude, and high esteem. They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society: in particular they represent the roots and the memory of a people. You are an important presence, because your experience is a precious treasure, which is essential if we would look to the future with hope and responsibility. Your maturity and wisdom, accumulated over the years, can help younger people in search of their own way, supporting them on the path of growth and openness to the future. The elderly, in fact, show that, even in the most difficult trials, we must never lose confidence in God and in a better future. They are like trees that continue to bear fruit: even under the weight of years, they can give their original contribution for a society rich in values and for the affirmation of the culture of life.
Not a few elderly people who generously spend their time and the talents that God has bestowed upon them by helping and supporting others. I think of how many you make yourselves available in parishes for a truly valuable service: some of you are dedicated to decorating the house of the Lord, others as catechists, leaders of the liturgy, others as witnesses to charity. And what about their role in the family? How many grandparents care for grandchildren, simply by passing on to children the experience of life, the spiritual and cultural values of a community and a people! In countries that have suffered a severe religious persecution, grandparents are the ones who pass on the faith to new generations, leading the children to be baptized in a context of underground suffering.
In a world like this, in which strength and appearance are often mythologized, your mission is to bear witness to the values that really matter and that endure forever because they are engraved on the heart of every human being and guaranteed by the Word of God. Precisely as people in the so-called “third age”, you, or rather we – because I too am one of them – we are called to work for the development of the culture of life, witnessing that every season of life is a gift from God and has its own beauty and its importance, though marked by fragility.
In the face of so many elderly people who, according to their means, continue to serve others, there are many who live with disease and physical disability, and need assistance. Today I thank God for the many people and structures that are dedicated to providing the elderly with daily service, to promote adequate human contexts, in which everyone can with dignity live this important stage of their lives. The institutions that house the elderly are called to be places of humanity and loving attention, where the weakest are neither forgotten nor neglected, but visited, remembered, and cared for as brothers and sisters. This is only a due expression of the gratitude owed towards those who have given so much to their communities and the preservation of its roots.
There is still a much that institutions and social structures can do to help older people to make the most of their abilities, to facilitate their active participation, particularly to ensure that their personal dignity is always respected and appreciated. To do this we must counter the harmful throw-away culture that marginalizes the elderly, considering them unproductive. Those responsible for the public weal, cultural, educational and religious leaders, as well as all people of good will, are called upon to commit to building a more and more welcoming and inclusive society. It is also important to promote the bond between generations. The future of a people requires the encounter between young and old: the young people are the vitality of a people “on the way” and the elderly reinforce this vitality with memory and wisdom.
Dear grandfathers and grandmothers, thank you for your example of love, dedication and wisdom. Continue with courage to bear witness to these values! Let not your smiles and the beautiful brightness of your eyes be lacking in society! I accompany you with my prayers – and do not you forget to pray for me as well. And now, upon you and your intentions and good works, I invoke the Lord’s blessing.