Senior food box sorting at St. John the Baptist’s parish hall in Nov. 2019. (HCH Photo: Anna Weaver)
OFFICE FOR SOCIAL MINISTRY
“I want to tell you that you are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow: the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided.” (Pope Francis, “Message for the First World Day for Grandparents and Elderly 2021”)
What a vital blessing are our beloved kupuna! This blessing is the focus of Pope Francis’ message for this year’s First World Day for Grandparents and Elderly, in which he extolled the value of our aging population and how they are fundamental to building a better future for all. The pope pointed out that even while many seniors are experiencing extraordinary vulnerability during this pandemic, the elders’ role in evangelization, the living and sharing the gift of their faith, is vital for building the world of tomorrow.
At the age of 84, the pope made it clear that “It makes no difference how old you are, … there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel.”
This special papal message elaborated on the essential role the elderly play in providing the foundation for spreading the Good News through three fundamental pillars: dreams, memory and prayer. Referencing a quote from the prophet Joel, “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men will have visions,” the pope stated that the future of the world “depends on the old to continue dreaming of justice, peace and solidarity while the young envision new ways to make those dreams come true.”
Pope Francis then linked dreams to memory, which is “the foundation of life” that helps all generations learn from past hardships, such as the sacrifice grandparents have made to create a better future for their family. Our Holy Father emphasized that memories “can help to build a more humane and welcoming world.” He reminded us that elderly migrants who care for many of our old are living memories of that sacrifice.
Finally, Pope Francis cited the importance of the third pillar of prayer, quoting his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI: “The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.”
According to the Holy Father, the prayer of elders is especially important “as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic … it inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore.”
Throughout his message for the Day for Grandparents and Elderly, Francis repeated the words of Christ, “I am with you always,” reminding us that “the Lord’s closeness will grant to all, even the frailest among us, the strength needed to embark on a new journey along the path of dreams, memory and prayer.”
Here in Hawaii, there are many examples of this journey and how kupuna, with their dreams, memory and prayer, are vital to living our faith and building a better future for all as one human family. The elderly on all the islands serving in parish food pantries are constantly making sure that their fellow kupuna have nutritious food through special activities such as the Senior Box programs.
Some parishes in the diocese also have formed Kupuna Kokua projects where elders and youth make it possible for vulnerable seniors to be able to stay in public housing. Other institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church, such as Catholic Charities Hawaii, have built and staffed senior centers where elders can thrive and support one another.
St. Francis Health Care Hospice provides opportunities for all ages to accompany seniors through difficult moments in life’s journey, while the Sisters of St. Francis’ Our Lady of Keaau Retreat Center has an outreach program that engages the elderly in feeding houseless kupuna in their area. HOPE Services Hawaii has several shelters on the Big Island serving elderly homeless through transitional housing and is currently constructing new affordable permanent homes for vulnerable seniors.
Clearly, the papal message to grandparents and elderly calls all to embark on this journey of sharing the dreams, memories and prayer needed “to build the world of tomorrow in which we will all live, once the storm has subsided.” For more on this, please visit the websitewww.officeforsocialministy.org.