by Father Mark Goldasich
They deserve having a second special day. In fact, we should make every day memorable for them.
I’m talking about grandparents. Many people are familiar with Grandparents Day celebrated on the first Sunday in September after Labor Day. Not as well known, however, is the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly that Pope Francis established in 2021. It’s observed on the fourth Sunday in July each year, close to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne (July 26), the parents of the Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus.
Its theme this year is: “His mercy is from age to age,” words from the Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel (1:50) when the young Mary greets her elderly cousin Elizabeth.
This Gospel connection between the generations — the young and the old — mirrors the link between this year’s World Day for Grandparents with World Youth Day (Aug. 1-6) in Lisbon, Portugal, whose theme is: “Mary arose and went with haste” (Lk 1:39) to visit Elizabeth. The pope wants to promote dialogue between the generations.
Pope Francis first spoke about this connection at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. The elderly “pass on wisdom and life experience” while the young exhibit “strength and hope for the future.” They complement and need each other.
Staying connected to my grandparents was easy growing up, at least with my mom’s folks. (My dad’s mom died before I was born and his dad died when I had just turned 3, so I don’t remember them.) We lived next door to Grandma and Grandpa Modrcin the first five years of my life and then just blocks away until they both died.
I spent countless hours with them because they were my afterschool and summer caregivers, my parents and I ate supper with them every night, and their house was the gathering place for Sunday lunch or afternoon conversation for relatives and friends.
I’m able to relive so many of those years through personal memories and old photos. I’m saddened, though, that in all the time I spent with my grandparents, I never thought to ask them about themselves — about their childhoods in Croatia, what they did when they were my age, what it was like to leave family in the “old country” and come to Kansas City, how tough it was to learn English and a different culture, what it was like to work in the packing house, how they managed to support their large family during the Depression or how stressful it was to have six sons serving in World War II.
I also took their Catholic faith for granted and never asked about their baptisms or first Communions or what meaning their faith held for them. And yet, it was their simple, lived faith that impressed and molded me.
It reminded me of this conversation in the marvelous book “Have a Little Faith,” between author Mitch Albom and the elderly Rabbi Albert Lewis about why the rabbi keeps Jewish customs:
“My grandparents did these things. My parents, too. If I take the pattern and throw it out, what does that say about their lives? Or mine? From generation to generation, these rituals are how we remain . . .”
He rolled his hand searching for the word.
Connected, I said.
“Ah.” He smiled at me. “Connected.”
This World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, connect with them in person (preferably), by Zoom or phone. Ask questions that I never got to ask my grandparents. Take them out to eat or shower them with gifts and praise.
And, for goodness’ sake, don’t wait until September 10 to do it again.