Rachel Lanz worked as a social-media specialist for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, and continues to volunteer on the WYD social-media English team. She has a B.S. from Benedictine College in Journalism and Mass Communications. After taking a year to teach English in Spain, she went back to writing, working as the journalism intern for EWTN in Rome. She is now a Register staff writer based in Rome.
In a video message to the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis went off script to emphasis the importance of the grandparents’ role in young people’s lives.
“It is very important to prepare them [young people] for the future, preparing them today in the present, but also rooted in the past: the young people and grandparents.”
A grandparents role is not easy, having to balance two different relationships: children and grandchildren.
“We are the custodians of the faith to the younger generations,” said Anna May McHugh, Managing Director of the Irish National Ploughing Championships. “It takes an age to build trust and a moment to ruin it.”
Grandparents, new and old, came together to receive support and the building blocks on how to tackle this mission.
Grandparents influence 73 percent of vocations. However, Catherine Wiley, founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association, didn’t realize how difficult that would be.
“Some of our children drifted away, some grandchildren are not baptized, and we have divorce in our family,” Wiley humbly shares. “But the witness and commitment and love of faith shows, and we will never let it die.”
As a grandmother of 10 with 50 years of marriage under her belt, she speaks from experience and was inspired to help other grandparents pass on the faith by keeping prayer in the heart of the family.
“Prayer is an eloquent form of proclamation and teaching,” Wiley believes. “It’s not reinventing the wheel, but reintroducing the wheel.”
Her positive perseverance grew the Catholic Grandparents Association to 10,000 members worldwide.
“Never forget how much you are loved and cherished in families, and in the Mother Church.”
Pope Francis’ soft spot for grandparents gives encouragement to a generation that may feel past, but on the contrary, they uphold the future.
However, younger generations growing up in the Church today face many distractions and doubts.
Being present and spending time with grandchildren gave Sarah and Declan O’Brien, Irish grandparents involved in the Focolare Movement, opportunities to share how they live their faith with their family.
The O’Briens have five children and four grandchildren, yet most of their children don’t educate their grandchildren in the faith.
After seeing the hardships their children have gone through, and the Church has gone through as well, how can they remain Catholic?
“In a way the Church is a family, the family of families, and if in our family someone did something really wrong, I wouldn’t leave my family,” Declan explained. “I would stay in my family and try to put it right.”
After a strong 40 years of marriage, the O’Briens see how their faith is a commitment.
“We’re going to stay with it in good times and in bad times and bring the love of God to our Church.”
Today, many grandparents expressed how they have become mute. They’re unable to speak about faith with their children, let alone their grandchildren.
The O’Briens have experienced this pain, yet remain positive.
“We have to give them that hope and maybe someday they might say, gosh, our Grandad and Nanna really lived with love and hope and belief,” said Declan.
Culture and Tradition
The role of a grandparent has many nuances.
While the grandfather sustains, listens and encourages the family, the grandmother transmits the cultural and family traditions, said Caterina and Angelo Russo, Pastoral Care Team of the Diocese of Naples, Italy.
“Parents tell their children where to go and what to do,” said Caterina, “But grandchildren needs someone to ask them to stop and to tell them about family, life and faith.”
New grandparents, Dick and Kathleen Stokes from Westmeath, Ireland, shared with the Register that they also keep that quiet time with their new grandchild because of the lifestyle their children as parents are living today.
“We thought we were under pressure in our time, but the pressure is a lot more intense now then it was,” said Dick. “Every house in Ireland needs two working parents to survive economically.”
With long commutes, family time with children is becoming a gift rather than a custom.
In the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62 percent of married couples are both working.
After holding back tears, the Stokes expressed that regardless of this reality, they are blessed to use the time they have with their grandchild because of how much that child brightens their lives.