For many grandparents in the Adelaide Archdiocese, the dream of spending their retirement on the golf course, travelling and pursuing an endless list of interests may be just that – a dream.
In reality the end of their working life may herald the start of a new chapter which involves the day-to-day care of their grandchildren. Pass by any primary school as the final siren sounds and you’ll see plenty of grandmothers and grandfathers lined up waiting to collect their charges and care for them until mum or dad finishes work.
As Pope Francis highlights, Catholic grandparents’ role as carers also extends to sharing their faith with their grandchildren. For whatever reason, their own adult child may have turned away from the Church but the older generation is making it a priority to spread their love of God with the young.
In his book, Our Father, Pope Francis reflects on the important role of grandparents in faith formation.
“The lives of the elderly and of grandparents are prayers. They are a gift of the Church. They are a treasure!
“We can teach young people in love with themselves that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Grandfathers and grandmothers make up the permanent ‘choir’ of a great spiritual shrine, where the prayer of supplication and the song of praise sustain the community that works and struggles in the field of life,” he writes.
Results of the 2016 National Church Life Survey indicate grandparents are figuring prominently in the faith formation of young Catholics. Figures supplied by the National Centre for Pastoral Research of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference show that when asked who were the ‘most significant people to show me what faith is about’, 19 per cent of the responses from the 395 survey participants in Catholic parishes said it was their grandparents (coming in behind their parents and the priest).
In local parishes, it appears grandparents are embracing Pope Francis’ call to share their wisdom and their faith.
Carmen Balales and Sr Jenny Seal from the Family and Parish Based Catechesis Office describe grandparents as a “great asset” to the faith development of their grandchildren, and praise their involvement in the Church “as they have so much to offer”.
“They have a vital role to play as significant people in the lives of the children that the intergenerational domestic Church can offer,” Sr Jenny said.
“In some families, the grandparents encourage the parents to enrol their children in the sacrament program. In this way, the grandparents have a role to play in encouraging the faith development in their grandchildren.”
Carmen added that grandparents happily come to ritual Masses, respond to the questions that children may have and are a good role model for the children, “particularly if they are active in their own community”.
“In some cases, the grandparents physically support the child by attending the workshops and sharing their faith experiences,” she said.
At an informal gathering attended by the Archdiocese’s Catholic Communities manager Jill Gallio grandparents reflected on their role in supporting the younger generation’s faith journey.
Pam Priadko from St Ann’s parish said as a grandparent she tries “to make the most of opportunities” as they arise to share her faith with her grandchildren.
“I don’t force it on them,” she said.
“As parents we first need to love our children and trust them; praise them for how they are parenting. Our grandchildren will learn more from us if we love and accept them. They will know from who we are that our love of Jesus is the basis of our lives.
“Jesus didn’t criticise and make others wrong. The Holy Spirit will guide us to do what is best for our kids and grandkids if we just let go of always being right. We don’t have a right to try to indoctrinate our grandchildren into thinking that their parents aren’t doing a good enough job – just love them.”
Salisbury parishioner Margaret McCulloch, who received a papal blessing in 2015 for her service to children’s ministry, said it was wonderful to hear the reflections of young people who attended the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney in December 2015.
“They shared what it felt like to be with a thousand young people all praying together, they spoke so well and with passion,” she said. “A lot is happening in the Church with our youth, their ways are not our ways, it is a new era and there are different ways of expressing faith.”
Sue Eckert from Mt Barker Parish shared insights from CAFÉs new prayer series for the over 60s, entitled ‘Beloved Disciples’. She said gathering together with others over 60 to view the program was a “great opportunity to share their stories about faith and their relationships with their children and grandchildren”.
At another gathering, Michael Flavel, a member of the Gleeson College Board said: “I came from a traditional Catholic background, heavily influenced by my engagement with YCW as a young person. It’s been very interesting watching some of the children and grandchildren and the way they approach the Church.
“I often wonder ‘what do they miss out on by not going to Church?’ The education and faith education that they have had in Catholic Schools has been an amazingly positive experience and they are all good people and community leaders.
“It’s not better or worse than when I was young – just different”.
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