“Elderly, you are not alone! The Church is close to you! Distancing does not have the last word.” In an interview with Exaudi, these strong words were voiced by Dr. Gabriella Gambino, Under-Secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, as she reflected on the upcoming World Day for the Elderly and Grandparents.
The day to be commemorated on July 25th was instituted by Pope Francis and its theme, just announced, will be “I am with you.”
In this interview, Gambino not only explains why the Holy Father chose this theme, and why Francis seems to have a personal sensitivity toward the elderly and toward grandparents, but also how the elderly have been particularly affected by the pandemic and why they are all the more deserving and needing of closeness.
In fact, the married mother of five, and accomplished academic and writer, appeals on behalf of the Church “to go out.”
“We are conscious that this summer very many elderly will still not be able to go to Church; therefore, we will ask all Christians, in particular the youngest, to go to meet them. We want it to become an expression of the “Church “going forth”: to have many children going to visit grandparents or the elderly that are most alone in their neighborhood, with a gift, a flower, and the promise to them: “I am with you every day.”
She also underscores the elderly will no longer be discarded “when our societies learn to recognize the values, spirituality and charism in them.”
Here is Dr. Gambino’s conversation with Exaudi:
You Are Not Alone – Church Is Close to You
EXAUDI: The theme chosen by Pope Francis for the first World Day of the Elderly and Grandparents, to be held on July 25, raises the subject of the loneliness of the elderly. Why did he choose this theme?
Gabriella Gambino: The subject chosen evokes above all a specific choice: that of closeness. The Church wishes to be close to every woman and every man and, in particular, to the elderly. It is a promise that the Lord addresses to all His disciples, but that in a particular time as that in which we are living, acquires a particular meaning for the elderly: distancing, though necessary, isn’t the last word. The Church is close to you! You aren’t alone! After all, Pope Francis said it last Sunday at the Angelus: “There is no such thing as Christianity at a distance. Love calls for closeness, for contact.”
We have thought out the Day, which will be held on July 25, in the heart of the Amoris Laetitiae Family Year, as an invitation to “go out.” We are conscious that this summer very many elderly will still not be able to go to Church; therefore, we will ask all Christians, in particular the youngest, to go to meet them. We want it to become an expression of the “Church “going forth”: to have many children going to visit grandparents or the elderly that are most alone in their neighborhood, with a gift, a flower, and the promise to them: “I am with you every day.”
World Day Instituted to Reassert Value of the Elderly
EXAUDI: The loneliness of the elderly has, in many cases, gotten much worse during the pandemic. What message is the theme ‘I am with you always’ wishing to launch?
Gabriella Gambino: The loneliness of the elderly has been aggravated in many cases in the time of the pandemic; we have perceived clearly all the violence. Loneliness — and in some cases abandonment — have been terrible allies of the virus and have been responsible for the loss of many lives. Because of this also, Pope Francis handles the subject of the defense of life in a new way, and he does so by extending it, for instance, to the defense of our common home and including opposition to the throwaway culture of those that are more advanced in years.
At the same time, much news has arrived of manifestations of solidarity in dealings with those most alone in these months. The responses to the appeal that the Holy Father made on July 26 of last year, “Every elderly person is your grandfather,” were truly moving.
However, the health crisis has only accelerated the discarding process, of which the Pope has spoken for some time. We can’t conceive of addressing the question only as a social emergency. There is a spiritual root to gather. The elderly will no longer be discarded when our societies learn to recognize the values, spirituality and charism in them.
The institution of the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, which is not only linked to the pandemic, stems from the desire to put the value of the elderly and the gift of old age at the center of civil and ecclesial communities.
Bergoglio’s Affection for Those With Old Age
EXAUDI: In your opinion, from where does Pope Francis’ marked sensitivity stem for the reality of old age and the reality, at times, of this difficult phase of life?
Gabriella Gambino: As in so many other aspects of his pontificate, his attention to old age stems from concrete encounters. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio would usually visit institutes for the elderly. He has spoken about it many times and his attention to elderly people alone in institutes stems from this experience. But I believe that there is something that stems from the pilgrimages he led to the Shrine of the Virgin of Lujan and from his experience of the faith lived by the faithful holy People of God. For us, of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, it is significant to remember that it was in fact Cardinal Pironio — to whom Francis is linked — , a former President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who brought the theme of popular religiosity to the Synod on Evangelization of ’74. Those institutions, which were then taken up in Evangelii Nuntiandi, flow together almost identically in Evangelii Gaudium. Pope Francis has, perhaps, such high regard for the elderly because he values their popular way of living and of expressing the faith. As I said, the alternative to the throwaway culture is a look that is able to take up the charisms of old age.