Pope Francis greets an elderly woman as he meets with people in a poor neighborhood in Asuncion, Paraguay, in this July 12, 2015, file photo. The pope has chosen the theme “I am with you always,” for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated July 25. CNS photo/Paul Haring
Pope Francis greets an elderly woman as he meets with people in a poor neighborhood in Asuncion, Paraguay, in this July 12, 2015, file photo. The pope has chosen the theme “I am with you always,” for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated July 25. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Following his Jan. 31 Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis announced his decision to establish a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly to take place annually on the fourth Sunday of July. The theme of the day, “I am with you always,” serves as a reason for celebration of all generations together.

In honor of the day, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will serve as principal celebrant for Mass in St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, Toms River, July 25, the day before the memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, grandparents of Jesus. The 11 a.m. Mass will be livestreamed and can be viewed at Youtube.com/trentondiocese and other diocesan media outlets.

The Holy Father expressed concern that grandparents and the elderly are often forgotten, but offered encouragement that, in the darkest moments, the Lord sends angels to console their loneliness.

In their pastoral guidelines for this annual celebration, the Vatican Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life explains it as “a way of incorporating attention for the frail elderly into the routine fabric of our pastoral work,” through such things as prayer, addressing the issue of loneliness and creating solidarity networks.

In his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti, the Pope spoke about fraternity and social friendship as paths to building a more just and peaceful world: “We have seen what happened to the elderly in certain places in our world as a result of the coronavirus. They did not have to die that way.

“Yet something similar had long been occurring during heat waves and in other situations where older people found themselves cruelly abandoned. We fail to realize that, by isolating the elderly and leaving them in the care of others without the closeness and concern of family members, we disfigure and impoverish the family itself. We also end up depriving young people of a necessary connection to their roots and of wisdom that the young cannot achieve on their own.”

In his video message to grandparents and “elderly friends,” in which he identifies himself as “elderly like you,” Pope Francis stressed, “The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!”

He underscored the importance of foundational pillars needed to renew “our troubled societies” including three “that you, better than anyone else, can help to set up. Those three pillars are dreams, memory and prayer.”

“Our dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity can make it possible for our young people to have new visions; in this way, together, we can build the future,”
stressed the Holy Father.

He highlighted the mission for every elderly person of “keeping memory alive and sharing it with others,” and shared the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, “himself a saintly elderly person who continues to pray and work for the Church, who once said: ‘the prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.’ …There is something beautiful here. Your prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need.”

While there are a number of tools that give expression to the Church’s pastoral concern for older people, the Dicastery has suggested one, in particular, that is easy to implement and very effective: “Visit them. It is a tangible sign of a Church which goes forth. To pay a visit is a way, rooted in tradition, of showing compassion, including towards those who are ill or in prison. Today it seems that we need to add to the well-known list of the seven works of mercy, the ‘work’ of visiting the elderly who are alone. The decision of the Apostolic Penitentiary to grant a Plenary Indulgence to those who carry this out underlines its urgency.”

In a letter to bishops of the Church, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, writes, “We have chosen to give pride of place to the local celebration of this day, so as to ensure that its joyous message reaches every grandparent and elderly person effectively, even the most isolated,” emphasizing the message of the observance, “I am with you always,” and suggesting that every parish dedicate one of the July 25 Masses to grandparents and the elderly.