Growing our faith through young eyes

Picture of Lindy McNamara

Lindy McNamara

Lindy is a freelance journalist

‘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.’

 

Pope Francis’ words on the celebration of the Catholic Church’s first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021 highlight the important role the older generation has in the faith formation of the young.

 

In Australia, Catholic grandparents are embracing the Pope’s call – not only when it comes to faith formation but in other areas of their grandchildren’s lives.

 

From providing much-needed childcare while both parents work, to cheering on the sidelines at sporting events and other activities, through to financial assistance for education and living expenses – it is apparent that many grandparents are not opposed to ‘undertake something new’.

 

Two couples shared their grandparenting experience with The Majellan and revealed how their Catholic faith is also nurtured and strengthened through spending time with their grandchildren.

 

Ron and Mavis Pirola of Sydney are members of the Catholic Grandparents Association and were previously members on the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. They have four adult children, eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren and say they feel blessed that they have been able to play a part in their faith formation.

 

Over the years they have developed five ‘strategies’ to connect with their grandchildren and “pass on the faith”.

 

At the top of their list is prayer and making sure their grandchildren know that they pray for them daily, and by name.

 

“We have worked a lot with young people over the years and we wish their grandparents could hear how reassured young people are by their grandparents’ prayers,” says Mavis.

 

The second strategy is being a “welcoming presence” in the lives of their grandchildren.

 

“One of the great joys of grandparenting is being their cheerleaders,” explains Ron. “We must have watched hundreds of different team sports of our grandkids and they offer endless opportunities to discuss values of faith and life.”

 

“As we listen to our grandchildren, we also learn from them. They teach us,” adds Mavis.

 

“Children ask good questions. And each generation thinks differently and we are constantly having our favourite concepts challenged and tested. They can actually help us to rediscover our faith with new eyes.”

 

Storytelling is another powerful tool used by the couple.

 

 

Mavis says their grandchildren love to hear stories about their parents as well as their grandparents’ journey though life, including the importance of their faith.

 

“At Mass, we learn from the scripture stories of our faith ancestors. In our domestic churches, our families, we can also learn our faith story and help build a familial approach towards a synodal Church,” she says.

 

Fourth on the list is the “witness of the longevity” of their 65 years of marriage.

 

“Not just that we are still married but, more importantly, that we are still in love and that our faith is integral to our life together,” Ron explains.

 

And finally, Mavis says that ongoing formation for them as a couple plays a significant role in passing on the faith to their grandchildren.

 

“In our parenting years, the presence and influence of faith-filled families around us were real sources of learning and inspiration. Now as grandparents, to be better equipped to accompany our grandchildren, it is equally important to be working on our own spirituality and formation in these times of change.”

 

Aldo and Erica Floreani of Adelaide say they love the new dimension grandparenting brings to their lives.  

 

 

Retired from their jobs in Catholic education and married now for 51 years, the Floreanis feel grandparents have an important role to play in faith formation at a time when “Church and faith commitment is not that important in people’s lives”.

 

“Generally, schools are the most important part of a child’s faith development, but they are competing with a world which reflects the secular rather than the religious dimensions of life,” Aldo explains.

 

“We try to attend all of our grandchildren’s sacramental programs, school liturgies and assemblies. Perhaps, most importantly, they see that our faith is very important to us with the role modelling we provide and the fact that we see it important to attend their own faith services.”

 

Raised in environments where “family came first”, Aldo and Erica said they have tried to instil that in the lives of the extended family by “actions, modelling and support”.

 

Like many grandparents they are actively involved in many aspects of the lives of their eight grandchildren, who range in age from 16 years to 7 months.

 

“We currently help with childcare, school pick ups/drop offs, sporting pursuits, dancing and gymnastics and hosting regular family events,” says Erica.

 

She adds that they are always honest with their children as to when they can and cannot help.

 

“They have totally understood, especially when they see that we bend over backwards to help if we can. Our comfort that our help is appreciated is when we receive words and symbols, especially from our grandchildren, of thanks.

 

“It’s nice when we see that our efforts have really helped, when we are included in family events, the way we are greeted when we arrive at their homes, when our advice is sought, when our grandchildren show obvious delight in seeing us and with the place of importance we are in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives,” Erica adds.

 

The fourth World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated on July 28 with the theme, ‘Do not cast me off in my old age’.

 

In a statement, the Vatican said the theme was ‘meant to call attention to the fact that, sadly, loneliness is the bitter lot in life of many elderly persons, so often the victims of the throwaway culture’.

 

‘By cherishing the charisms of grandparents and the elderly, and the contribution they make to the life of the Church, the World Day seeks to support the efforts of every ecclesial community to forge bonds between the generations and to combat loneliness,’ the statement said.

 

Footnote: You can listen to the Majellan Media podcasts, ‘The Joy of Grandparenting’ and ‘Grandparents Special Love’ with Dr Robyn Mills at: https://majellan.media/parenting-sessions/

 

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