The COVID-19 pandemic has been a heavy burden for people around the globe. Some countries have been hit harder than others, and some groups have experienced the deadly impact of the virus more intensely than others.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age, making older adults at the highest risk for hospitalization and death. “The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older,” according to the CDC.
Eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been adults aged 65 or older. As we have seen on television and experienced firsthand, visits to elderly parents and grandparents, especially those at senior living facilities, have been limited. Oftentimes, the visits happen between glass doors and windows or via computer or smartphone screens.
The loss of human contact during the past year has taken a crushing toll on morale for seniors, just has the fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Pope Francis, who often speaks out on the important role of the elderly in society, has created an opportunity for the church to honor senior citizens. In doing so, it may help to remind them that they are not forgotten and that they are loved.
Following his Sunday Angelus prayer service on Jan. 31, Pope Francis announced he is establishing a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. The inaugural observance will take place on July 25, 2021. He explained that the day he chose, the fourth Sunday of July, is close to the feast of SS. Joachim and Anne, the “grandparents” of Jesus.
“The Holy Spirit still stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly today. Their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and safeguards the roots of peoples,” said Pope Francis. “They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.”
The elderly are often forgotten, along with their wealth of knowledge and family history, said the pope as he announced the inaugural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. “It is important for grandparents to meet their grandchildren and for grandchildren to meet their grandparents, because — as the prophet Joel says — grandparents, before their grandchildren, will dream, and have great desires, and young people, taking strength from their grandparents, will go forward and prophesy,” said the pope.
Bishop David Ricken has spoken often about the gift that grandparents and other elders are to the church and to families. Yet these gifts are sometimes forgotten, a sign of what Pope Francis has called the “throwaway culture.”
The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is one way we, as a community of faith, can honor our elders. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who leads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, said dioceses and parishes around the world are invited to celebrate the observance.
“Today, more than ever, we are committed to making every effort to dismantle the throwaway culture and to enhance the charisms of grandparents and the elderly,” Cardinal Farrell said.
As the world envisions an end to the pandemic and the isolation it has caused, especially to our elders, let’s celebrate our senior citizens. May the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly next July be a day of joy filled with lots of prayers and hugs.