This morning Pope Francis, together with emeritus Pope Benedict, met with thousands of elderly people in Saint Peter’s Square, telling them that old age “is a time of grace.”
Grandparents, the Pope said, are entrusted with handing down their wisdom and their faith, conveying their life experience and the story of their family, community and nation. Blessed, he said, are those families who have grandparents nearby. In a way, he added, a grandfather is “twice a father” and the grandmother “twice a mother.”
The crowds burst into applause when Francis compared having Benedict living close by in the Vatican to “having a wise grandparent at home.” Francis embraced Benedict, now 87 years old, who wore a long white coat and walked with the assistance of a cane.
Musical performances from various singers added to the festive nature of the encounter, including one from tenor Andrea Bocelli.
However, in his address, Francis also warned of the danger of a society that abandons or undervalues its older members.
How many times we “discard” older people, Francis said, comparing this to “a hidden form of euthanasia.”
“The culture of discarding human beings hurts our world,” he said. “We discard children, young people and older people under the pretense of maintaining a ‘balanced’ economic system.”
A society that doesn’t care for grandparents “has no future,” said the Pope.
Francis timed his meeting with the elderly to coincide with national Grandparents’ Day, celebrated in Italy on October 2. Though in the USA Grandparents Day is celebrated on September 7, in Italy “la Festa dei Nonni” was set to correspond to the Catholic feast of the Guardian Angels, in reference to the role that grandparents play in the lives of their descendents.
Grandparents Day was instituted in Italy in 2005, amidst much discussion surrounding the proposed legalization of euthanasia in different EU countries. It also came immediately on the heels of the death of Terri Schiavo, following removal of her feeding tube on March 31, 2005, a topic hotly debated in Italy.