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Pope Francis to Elderly: The Church Needs your Prayers Like ‘a deep breath’

Pope Francis visits the San Raffaele Borona assisted living home in Rieti, Italy, Oct. 4, 2016./ Vatican Media.

There is no “retirement” from spreading the faith, Pope Francis said in a message to grandparents on Tuesday, adding that the prayers of the elderly are needed by the Church and the world.

“Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones. Never forget this,” the 84-year-old pope said.

He said that it does not matter how old one is, whether one works or not, and whether one has a family or is alone.

“Because there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. You just need to set out and undertake something new,” he commented.

In his message ahead of the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis referred to his own advanced age, and quoted his predecessor, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he called “a saintly elderly person who continues to pray and work for the Church.”

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“‘The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.’ [Benedict] spoke those words in 2012, towards the end of his pontificate,” Francis said. “There is something beautiful here. Your prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need.”

“I was called to become the Bishop of Rome when I had reached, so to speak, retirement age and thought I would not be doing anything new,” he noted. “The Lord is always -- always -- close to us. He is close to us with new possibilities, new ideas, new consolations, but always close to us. You know that the Lord is eternal; he never, ever goes into retirement.”

In January, Pope Francis established the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to take place annually on the fourth Sunday of July, close to the feast of the grandparents of Jesus, Sts. Anne and Joachim.

This year the celebration will fall on Sunday, July 25, and Pope Francis will offer a Mass with the elderly in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the occasion.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life has assembled a “pastoral kit” for parishes and dioceses with suggestions for how to celebrate the first grandparents’ day.

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Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the dicastery’s prefect, said during a press conference June 22 that the day “is meant to be a great celebration. And truly, we need it. After such a difficult year, we need to celebrate grandparents, grandchildren, young, and old.”

The theme of this year’s grandparents’ day is “I am with you always,” taken from Matthew 28:20.

“This is the promise the Lord made to his disciples before he ascended into heaven,” Francis explained in his message. “They are the words that he repeats to you today, dear grandfathers and grandmothers, dear elderly friends.”

“‘I am with you always’ are also the words that I, as Bishop of Rome and an elderly person like yourselves, would like to address to you on this first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly,” he wrote. “The whole Church is close to you -- to us -- and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone.”

Pope Francis noted that his message came after the difficult period of the coronavirus pandemic, which “swept down on us like an unexpected and furious storm,” and was a time of trial especially for the elderly.

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“Many of us fell ill, others died or experienced the death of spouses or loved ones, while others found themselves isolated and alone for long periods,” he said. “The Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time. He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic.”

The pope encouraged people to visit their grandparents or other elderly or sick people, saying that they would be like “angels” to them.

He also urged the elderly to pray with the psalms and to read a page of the Gospel every day.

“We will be comforted by the Lord’s faithfulness. The Scriptures will also help us to understand what the Lord is asking of our lives today. For at every hour of the day (cf. Matthew 20:1-16) and in every season of life, he continues to send laborers into his vineyard,” he said.

As part of the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, the Vatican has also granted a plenary indulgence to those who participate, either by attending a related spiritual event or by physically or virtually visiting the elderly, sick, or disabled on July 25.

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An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins that have already been forgiven.

The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence, which must be met, are that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, have complete detachment from sin, and pray for the pope’s intentions.

The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

The Apostolic Penitentiary said that the indulgence could also be gained by the elderly, sick, and anyone who cannot leave their homes for a serious reason, by uniting spiritually to the spiritual events of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, “offering to the Merciful God their prayers, pains or sufferings of their lives,” while following the words of the pope on that day through television, radio, or the internet.