“How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family.” These were the words of Pope Francis in July 26, 2013 when he was addressing the audience from the balcony of the Archbishopric of Rio de Janeiro.
Thousands of young people from around the world then were listening to the Pope as they had come to Brazil for World Youth Day. It also marked the Pope’s first international Apostolic Journey following his election to the papacy in March 2012.
The Church was also celebrating the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the Virgin Mary’s parents and Jesus’s grandparents.
Pope Francis took the opportunity to emphasise – citing the Aparecida Document which noted that “children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives.”
Young people and the elderly, grandparents and grandchildren. This binomial has become a constant feature of his pontificate.
The young and the elderly, Pope Francis noted, are often the first victims of our “throwaway culture”. He added that it is only when the young and elderly are together can paths be pointed towards finding space for a better future.
“If the young are called to open new doors,” said the Pope at a Mass for consecrated religious on February 2, 2018, “the elderly hold the keys.”
“There is no growth without roots and no flowering without new buds,” he added.
Land of dreams
For Pope Francis, the place of encounter between young and old is that of dreams. As the experience of the Covid pandemic has shown us, it is precisely our dreams, our vision of tomorrow, which have held together grandparents and grandchildren who have suddenly been separated, adding further to the burden of isolation.
The Pope’s focus on the dimension of dreams has deeply Biblical roots. Pope Francis recalled what the prophet Joel taught us: “It shall come to pass: I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 3:1). Who if not the young, the Pope asks, can take the dreams of their elders and carry them forward?
Significantly, during the Synod dedicated to young people (October 2018), Pope Francis hosted a special event on dialogue between generations – the meeting “Sharing the Wisdom of Time” – at the Augustinian Patristic Institute.
Responding then to the questions of the young and elderly on issues facing the Church and the world, he urged them “to defend your dreams like children defend themselves”.
The Pope entrusted young people with this great responsibility. “You,” he said, ideally addressing every young person, “cannot carry all the elderly on your shoulders, but you can carry their dreams. Carry them forward with you, and they will do you much good.”
He also emphasised the importance of empathy, and how it is impossible “to carry on a conversation with a young person without empathy.”
But where can we find this resource which we need to move forward? In closeness. That is the Pope’s answer.
Closeness is a precious asset, as we have experienced in these months when this fundamental dimension of our existence was suddenly “suspended” due to the virus.
“Closeness works miracles,” he said, “closeness to those who suffer”, “closeness to the problems of others, and closeness between young and old.” Closeness immunises us from the virus of division and mistrust, by nourishing the culture of hope.
Bud and foliage
He noted that the tension between the young and elderly must always be resolved in the encounter with each other. Young people are “bud and foliage, but without roots they cannot bear fruit. The elderly are the roots.”
The Pope encouraged them to dream. “Remember your children, and do not stop dreaming. This is what God asks of you: to dream.” (Joel 3:1)
In this difficult moment that we are living in, Pope Francis highlighted that now is a good time to find the courage to imagine what is possible, with the realism that only the Gospel can offer us. Now is the time when the prophecy of Joel can become reality.