Later this month, we will celebrate the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne. As we remember and honour Jesus’ grandparents, two initiatives—one global, one local—are helping the Church to celebrate and better appreciate the rich gifts and contribution of the older people in our lives and faith communities.

World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly

In January this year, Pope Francis announced the institution of a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated on Sunday 25 July, with the theme ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20). The World Day will take place each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne.

This day encourages the Church to reflect on the value, gifts and dignity of grandparents and the elderly, whose love, wisdom and living memory are invaluable resources to be treasured and celebrated.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, says that the establishment of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly ‘is the first fruits of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, a gift to the whole Church that is destined to continue into the future’.

In his official message for the World Day, Pope Francis affirmed the elderly, reminding them that God is with them always:

This is the promise the Lord made to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. They are the words that he repeats to you today, dear grandfathers and grandmothers, dear elderly friends. ‘I am with you always’ are also the words that I, as Bishop of Rome and an elderly person like yourselves, would like to address to you on this first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. The whole Church is close to you—to us—and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!

In the lead up to this celebration, people are encouraged to share their stories and the joy of celebrating grandparents and the elderly with the Church and society. One way to do this is on social media, with the hashtag #iamwithyoualways.

Previously, at the World Meeting of Families in 2018, Pope Francis reminded the Church that:

A society that does not value grandparents is a society that has no future. A Church that is not mindful of the covenant between generations will end up lacking the thing that really matters, which is love. Our grandparents … are a treasury of experience, a treasury of wisdom for the new generation (address, IX World Meeting of Families, Dublin, 25 August 2018).

The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life has released a set of resources to help parishes and faith communities to celebrate the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. These include:

  • a set of pastoral guidelines, including advice on preparing the elderly for the World Day, preparing young people for the World Day and remembering the elderly who died because of COVID-19, as well as details on how to obtain a plenary indulgence on the World Day
  • liturgy notes, including homily notes, suggestions for prayers of the faithful and for the commemoration for the elderly who died during the pandemic, and a suggested final blessing for Mass
  • Pope Francis’ address to Grandparents and the Elderly for the World Day
  • the official prayer for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

Those who'd like to explore the experience of ageing more broadly and deeply might also consider participating in Victoria's own Navigating Ageing Project.

The Navigating Ageing Project

The Navigating Ageing Project is a local initiative committed to exploring similar themes to those of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. Currently being established by Catholic Theological College (CTC), the project studies ageing from the perspectives of theology, spirituality, pastoral care and ethics, and is targeted at people over the age of 65 who are ‘learning to live, love and flourish in new and challenging ways’.

Rev. Dr Laurence McNamara (CTC) and Rev. Dr Alan Niven from Stirling Theological College are developing the project. While they have aspirations for future online resources, currently the project comprises three main elements:

  • community-based seminars
    Short courses on a range of topics will help people to focus on all aspects of ageing. Attendees will be encouraged to find purpose, rediscover their identity and, most importantly, realise the extraordinary opportunities this exciting next phase of their lives has in store for them.
  • university courses
    A Graduate Certificate in Ageing is available already, and a Masters of Spiritual and Pastoral Care is currently being developed.
  • publications and resources
    A much-needed literature review will be published, focusing on the meaning of ageing, mapping what has been written on the topic and providing a basis for future academic research, publications and education programs.

Commenting on this initiative, Rev. Dr Laurence McNamara says, ‘In all my activities, I have sought to project an understanding that ageing is an important phase in the journey of life. For each individual, it is a new vocation, full of possibilities and open to a richer human experience than what has been experienced in earlier years.’

More information about the Navigating Ageing Project can be found here.