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Elderly “living encyclopedia”, Ugandan Bishop Says, Urges Youth to Learn from Grandparents

Bishop Paul Ssemogere of the Catholic Diocese of Kasana-Luweero with some elders and grandparents. Credit: Ugandan Catholics Online/Facebook

The elderly in society are “living encyclopedias”, the Catholic Bishop of Uganda’s Kasana-Luweero Diocese said Sunday, July 25.

In his homily on the occasion of the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which Pope Francis established on January 31, Bishop Paul Ssemogerere urged the younger generation “to honor the elderly” and seek to draw valuable lessons from them.

“As a society (and especially the younger generation), we are called to honor the elderly and grandparents. We honor them by welcoming them and making good use of their qualities, and helping them,” Bishop Ssemogerere said.

The elderly and grandparents, he said, are “living encyclopedias of wisdom and guardians of vast treasures of human and spiritual experiences.”

The Catholic Church leader further called on the younger generations to be welcoming to the aged saying such welcoming attitude fosters inter-generational cooperation, which, he said, is a crucial element of progress in society.

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He emphasized, making reference to Pope Francis' Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, “The world has never benefited, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations.”

“When intergenerational relationships exist, a collective memory is present in communities, as each generation takes up the teachings of its predecessors and in turn hands on this legacy to its successors,” the Local Ordinary of Kasana-Luweero who doubles as the Apostolic Administrator of Kampala Archdiocese explained.

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, Saints Anne and Joachim.

This year, the theme of the event is, “I am with you always,” taken from Matthew 28:20.

“Grandparents are often forgotten and we forget this wealth of preserving and passing on the roots. For this reason, I have decided to establish the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly,” Pope Francis said in the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace January 31.

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In his homily, Bishop Ssemogerere called upon “younger generations” to be at the aid of the elderly who have borne the brunt of COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Younger generations are called to help the elderly and grandparents especially in this period when the pandemic has hit them so hard. Many elderly persons and grandparents face challenges such as social isolation and marginalization, abandonment, loneliness and diminishing of social contacts, among others,” the Ugandan Bishop said.

In Uganda where there have been at least 92,724 reported cases of COVID-19, including 2,579 deaths and 77,171, he said, “Many elderly persons fell ill, some passed away, and many experienced extended periods of isolation because their relatives did not want them to contract the disease.”

“Those who are still sick and frail need special attention to help them on the road to recovery. Those that are lacking, need our special attention,” the Bishop further said.

The elderly people have a contribution to make in society, Bishop Ssemogerere went on to say, faulting those who see senior citizens as socially inadequate.

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“It is elders and grandparents who define the present by transmitting to the young generations what they received in turn. They transmit the wisdom of the ancients and are thus a link to the wisdom of our fathers,” he said.

The 65-year-old Bishop added, “Old age is not only a time for transmitting wisdom but also a time for passing on religious values to the young generation who always stand in need of direction.”

Elderly members of the society are “guardians of the memory and traditions which we share with those who came before us,” he said, adding, “Our elders and grandparents are living embodiments of the past, hence their importance in society. They are interpreters of values and ideals that guide life in society.”

Excluding the elderly denies the society its past, which is “like a tree without roots,” the Bishop who has been at the helm of Kasana-Luweero Diocese since his episcopal ordination in August 2008 said.

He called upon the elderly and grandparents to live a life grounded in prayer and in God saying, “The only way to live well and be fruitful in old age is to live in God.” he said.

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In his message released 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.”

“‘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,” Pope Francis said in June.

He added, “There is something beautiful here. Your prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need.”