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Grandparents and faith: A direct legacy that transcends generations

Importance of grandparents: Carmen Dean of Burnsville, Minn., helps her granddaughter, Ana Elizabeth Rodriguez, get ready for a procession at the start of a Mass to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in this file photo from 2008. (OSV News photo/Dave Hrbacek, Catholic Spirit)
Carmen Dean of Burnsville, Minn., helps her granddaughter, Ana Elizabeth Rodriguez, get ready for a procession at the start of a Mass to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in this file photo from 2008. (OSV News photo/Dave Hrbacek, Catholic Spirit)

By Silvio Cuéllar, OSV News

During my high school years, I lived with my grandmother Matilde. Sunday night was a sacred time when she would always take me to church. Back then, I lived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, and we had two options to go to Mass: Our Lady of the Rosary Church, three blocks away, or the Salesians’ Maria Auxiliadora parish, a little further, five blocks away. During those years, it was my grandmother — who I’d see praying every night before going to sleep — who planted the seed of faith in my heart.

In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of grandparents in family life and how their role can be fundamental in transmitting the Catholic faith to future generations. The Holy Father invites us to reflect on the importance of this intergenerational connection and its impact on the spiritual growth of our families.

“Very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren, and ‘many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents,’” noted the pope.

That was my experience, not only with my own abuelitas but also with my children’s grandparents.

My wife Becky and I were blessed to have my in-laws, Paul and Barbara, just 10 minutes from home. They were a great help to us, supporting us during the extracurricular activities of our seven children. They were always present at soccer tournaments, musical performances, plays and they are the ones who taught my children about the lives of the saints.

When involved in the lives of their grandchildren, grandparents can become the family’s treasure — their experience, wisdom and unconditional love can become an invaluable legacy that nurtures and strengthens family life.

Through their words, prayers and actions, grandparents can be beacons of spiritual light, guiding their grandchildren toward a deeper relationship with God and teaching them the value of prayer, mercy, forgiveness and Christian love.

The pope also wrote: “A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future.” In our modern society, where the elderly often end up alone and isolated, this is a great challenge.

Recently my dad had three strokes and had to be in a rehabilitation center twice, but it was very difficult for him to feel alone and away from the family. In that place, his mental health worsened, and he started to get depressed. Ultimately, my siblings and I decided to take him home and take turns nursing him, so he would not feel alone. There was no perfect solution but being at home gave him more tranquility and peace in his heart. Sadly, I was able to observe how many elderly people live in neglect and loneliness in rehabilitation centers for the elderly.

Grandparents can also be key pillars in the formation of a strong faith community, encouraging the passing on of family traditions and stories. In this regard, Pope Francis affirmed: “Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country.”

I was not able to share much with my grandparents since they passed away when I was very young, but I carry in my heart the many stories that my grandmothers told me. My grandmother Elsa used to tell me how she emigrated from a small town to the city. With a lot of effort and hard work, she was able to progress and own a hotel, restaurant and store. My grandmother Matilde would tell me fascinating stories about her great-great-grandfather, an adventurous explorer in northern Bolivia bordering the Amazon, looking for the trees to extract rubber, for making tires.

Grandparents have an essential role as transmitters of the faith. Their love, wisdom and testimony are invaluable gifts that can strengthen family ties and nurture the spirituality of future generations. At the same time, we must not leave them alone and isolated from our families, within what the pope calls a “throwaway culture.”

Let us take advantage of the treasure of our grandparents, their stories and their support, to build strong Catholic families and communities where elders are respected, and the faith is lived and transmitted with joy and love.

Silvio Cuéllar is a writer, liturgical music composer and journalist. He was coordinator of the Hispanic Ministry office and editor of the newspaper El Católico de Rhode Island, the newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.

(To read this column in Spanish, click here)

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