By John L. Allen Jr.
Pope Francis will meet a large group of grandparents in September, a Vatican official announced today, because “they need to feel themselves valued” in what he called the “great responsibility” they have.
Their grandkids will come along too, according to Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.
Speaking to the Italian TV program “Halls of the Vatican,” broadcast by Tgcom24, Fisichella said he proposed the idea of meeting with grandparents to pope shortly before Christmas, and Francis readily accepted.
“We have to pick the date,” Fisichella said, “but it’s a decision the pope has already made, and we’re already in the stage of preparing for the event, which should draw big response from this huge segment of the population that needs to feel itself valued and that has a great responsibility in this particular moment of history.”
Pope Francis on several occasions demonstrated a special concern for the elderly, and for grandparents in particular.
Part of the reason may be biographical. His own paternal grandmother, Rosa, played an important role in raising the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and left a deep impression. In one of his early General Audiences as pope, for instance, Francis quoted a saying from his grandmother about the fleeting nature of earthy wealth: “A burial gown doesn’t have pockets.”
In his September interview with sixteen Jesuit publications, Francis reflected on his grandmother’s legacy.
“My grandmother Rosa loved me so much,” he said. “In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.”
Francis’ desire to reach out to the elderly has been clear at several key moments.
When he travelled to Brazil for World Youth Day in July, for instance, he said his vision for the event is that the young pilgrims would have a special concern for the elderly, and that part of the mission for World Youth Day should be to bring people “at either end of life” together.
When he invokes his now-familiar image of a “throw-away culture,” meaning a mentality that sees whole categories of people as essentially disposable, Francis routinely mentions the elderly as among the primary victims of this culture.
On Sunday, during a Mass marking the Catholic Church’s “Day of Consecrated Life,” Francis again underscored what he sees as the crucial role of the elderly in transmitting life’s wisdom to future generations.
In some ways, alongside being the “Pope of the Poor,” Francis also profiles as the “Pope of the Old,” and September’s celebration with grandparents should put an exclamation point on that aspect of his agenda.
John L. Allen Jr. is associate editor of the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter, @JohnLAllenJr, and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohnLAllenJr