On 26 July 2020, the Church celebrated the feast of Sts Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus. This year, the Holy Father Pope Francis, wished for all young people to reach out and show an act of tenderness and kindness “to the elderly who are most alone in their homes or retirement residences.” There are many elderly people who are alone – either at home or in care facilities – who are longing for companionship, love and care. They could be parents or even grandparents who have been abandoned for many months or sometime years. The Holy Father urged young people not to neglect their elderly.
The Holy Father also encouraged us to “make telephone calls, video calls, send text messages and send them hugs.” It would also be very kind and thoughtful if we could spend time listening to them, talking to them, having meals with them and most of all, being physically present by frequently visiting them, while adhering to healthcare guidelines.
Pope Francis also said, “An uprooted tree does not grow or bear flowers or fruit.” He has connected the elderly as our “roots” and we should always stay bonded and united with them, as how a tree remains connected to its roots. Through our social interaction and communication we stay united and rooted in them, bringing joy into their lives and ensuring they do not feel lonely or alone due to the absence of companionship.
I didn’t have much time with my grandparents. They died when I was young, but I still remember my grandmother taking care of me while my parents were at work. During my early years in the seminary, I had an awesome exposure programme called “Works of Mercy” with the elderly and the sick in homes and hospitals in Penang. I truly enjoyed serving and visiting them.
The Holy Father’s words should inspire not only young people but every one of us, to show kindness and love for the elderly people in our lives. They are a living source of family history, memories of happiness and struggles, as well as wisdom. They look to us for kindness tenderness, love, care and companionship. Our gestures should also go beyond our family circle – to include the homeless and even to those who are begging on the streets. I am sure that many of us have seen or come in contact with these people or perhaps even experienced working with them. A compassionate heart is all it takes to connect to those most in need.
Homeless people are often ignored and their existence overlooked. We hardly share a smile or say a warm “hello” when we pass them. If possible, we don’t even want to have eye contact with them, nor do we stop and enquire about them. We are afraid to start a conversion and we walk away as quickly as we can.
The next time we encounter a beggar or stranger on the street, just stop and say “hello” to that person. When we have a short conversation with them or say something to a stranger, we are making a personal connection with that person. Although we may be inclined to give them a small amount of money or share some food with them, we should always remember to keep them in our prayers. Pray that their basic needs as a human being are met, and that they are living their lives with the dignity every person deserves.
We can also seek the intercession of St Martin of Tours – the Patron Saint of the homeless and those people who are on the streets – to pray for them. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me,” (Matt 25:34-35).
Rev. Fr. George Packiasamy