Grandparents and the elderly benefit from experience that can only be collected through the accumulation of years. Their insight can be an incomparable resource, a beautiful artifact that can be preserved for generations – but only if they pass it on.

The value of telling a story that took a lifetime to craft was a subject addressed by Dr. Christopher Bellitto in his presentation at the World Meeting of Families in June. Dr. Bellitto, a history professor at Kean University, Union, and member of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold, spoke of the growing demographic of the elderly, and the value they have to offer their families and the Church by sharing their wisdom – knowledge gleaned from research for his book, “Ageless Wisdom: Lifetime Lessons from the Bible.” Excerpts from his talk follow.

Sharing their Stories

“In 2040, there will be more human beings over the age of 65 than under the age of 5 – a statistic that has never before happened in human history,” a number that represents 20 percent of the world’s total population.

“In 1980, [Pope] John Paul II told the International Forum on Active Aging that older men and women play a role in ‘the continuity of the generations’ by their ‘charism of bridging the gap.’


“[Pope] Benedict XVI, visiting a London nursing home in 2010, said, ‘As advances in medicine and other factors lead to increased longevity, it is important to recognize the presence of growing numbers of older people as a blessing for society. Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it. Indeed, the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude.’”


“[Pope] Francis talks about caring for our elders and connecting them with our young people all the time. I direct you to Amoris Laetitia numbers 191-93, among many other places, where he tells us that our elders are ‘a living part of our community.’ This phrase reminds me of a saying of the Akan tribe in Ghana, which calls seniors citizens ‘living ancestors’ – an instructive phrase and a good attitude: living ancestors.”


“[Pope] Francis gives us papal homework. Speaking a few days after his own 80th birthday in 2016, he said to a group of youngsters: ‘Speak to your grandparents. Ask them questions. They have the memory of history, the experience of living, and this is a great gift for you that will help you in your life journey.’ Where can this happen? Many places.”


“The first commitment is to make this a priority whether you are a grandparent, parent or younger person. Don’t say, ‘I don’t have the time.’ As I tell my college students: if you can’t find the time, make the time.


“Oral interviews: our seniors will not always be with us. We’ve heard their stories, but have we preserved them? Have young people documented their elders’ experiences by taping them so video and audio can last beyond their lifetimes? Start with the funny stories we’ve all heard. Prompt them to tell the stories they’ve never told but time is running out to do so. ‘What was it like when you came to this country….when you first dated…..when you started school….when you had something rough happen to you? What is your greatest regret?’


“Maybe tie this to children’s Sacramental preparation and life lessons: “Grandma, what was your First Communion like? Grandpa, did you get confirmed? Tell me about Mommy’s Baptism. Tell me about mine.’”


“Ask the tough questions: ‘Did you ever doubt God? Were you afraid you wouldn’t get a job? What did you think when your sister got cancer? How did you get through it? Did you ever march for a political or social cause? What happened? Were you scared? What was the cost? What helped you do hard things? Would you do it again?’”


“Cook together. Share the family recipes, write them down even if you’ve never done that before (especially if you’ve never measured it beyond ‘a handful of this, a pinch of that’). Tell the story that goes with the recipe – a feast, a wedding, a birthday, or no special event at all but something you just love to make. It might go like this: ‘When we came to this country, we couldn’t find this ingredient, so we substituted it with that. When we didn’t have enough food, we stretched it this way.’ And then – eat together, as often as possible.”