01 Feb


Who does not remember their grandparents? Who can forget their presence and their witness by the domestic hearth? How many of us bear their names as a sign of continuity and gratitude! It is a custom in families, after their departure, to remember their birthdays with the celebration of Mass for the repose of their souls and if possible, a visit to the cemetery. These and other gestures of love and faith are a manifestation of our gratitude for them. They gave themselves; they sacrificed themselves for us, and in certain cases also gave their lives…

These warm and affectionate words of Benedict XVI were spoken at a conference he gave on the Christian family. It was rather unusual that he devoted his entire speech to this theme. He goes on: grandparents, he said, “are a treasure which the younger generation should not be denied, especially when they bear witness to the faith.”


Pope Benedict XVI recalled: “Thinking of grandparents, of their testimony of love and fidelity to life, reminds us of the Biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, as well as of the elderly Simeon and Anna and even Nicodemus: they all remind us that at every age the Lord asks each one for the contribution of his or her own talents.” As for the Church, she “has always special attention to grandparents, recognising them as a great treasure from both the human and social as well as religious and spiritual viewpoints.” So the Pope set out the role of the grandparents “presence in the family, the Church and society with a look that can include the past, present and future.”


…In the past, grandparents had an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even with their advancing age they continued to be present with their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren, giving a living witness of caring, sacrifice and a daily gift of themselves without reserve. They were witnesses of a personal and community history that continued to live on in their memories and in their wisdom.


Until half a century ago, grandparents were few, counted for little and hardly lived long. They were marginal, on the periphery. Today the status of grandparents is more pronounced and many become great-grandparents. They contribute to the stability of family life, even in economic terms…the Pope recalls: “Today, the economic and social evolution has brought profound transformations to the life of families.”

He also pointed to two negative and dangerous transformations. – The elderly, including many grandparents, find themselves in a sort of “parking area”. Some think they are a burden to their family and prefer to live alone or in retirement homes with all the consequences that such decisions entail.” – Another sad transformation is that, “unfortunately the ‘culture of death’ is also threatening the stage of old age. With a growing insistence, people are even proposing euthanasia as a solution for resolving certain difficult situations…”.


We will have more and more and capable grandparents. More and more of them will have a wealth of experience and are experts in humanity. They will live longer. Their influence on future generations will grow. The Pope asks: “In the face of the crisis of the family, might it not be possible to set out anew precisely from the presence and witness of these people – grandparents – whose values and projects are more resilient?”

He then pointed out the need to focus on them: “If grandparents, as it is said often and on many sides, are a precious resource, it is necessary to put into practice coherent choices that allow them to be better valued.” So he suggests: “Never, under any circumstances, grandparents are to be excluded from the family.”

Finally, the Pope expressed a wish or a programme: “May grandparents return to being a living presence in the family, in the Church and in society…and continue to be witnesses of unity, of values founded on fidelity and of a unique love that gives rise to faith and the joy of living.”

– This is an excerpt of Enzo Bianco’s reflection on the conference of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (5 April, 2008), published in “Don Bosco’s Madonna” Magazine, issue July 2012; for subscriptions etc. contact: Shrine of Don Bosco’s Madonna, Matunga – Mumbai – 400 019 – India, email:


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