In many cultures, the elders of the community are highly respected and are seen as wisdom figures for young people. This is not always true in Western culture, where too often our elders are seen as a burden. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been encouraging us to re-think our attitudes toward our elders so that we hold them in higher esteem and continue to use their gifts in a variety of ways, including in the area of faith formation.
The new Directory for Catechesis tells us that, “Elderly persons are a patrimony of memory, and often keepers of the values of a society.” (266) The directory goes on to urge us to provide adequate catechesis (with an emphasis on hope) for those who are elderly as they make their way through the last stages of their journeys to God.
The directory does not stop there, however! In addition to mentioning the elderly as a “target audience” for catechesis, the directory emphasizes that, because of their wisdom and experience, they are “natural catechists of the community,” (268) who can transmit to young people the meaning of life and the value of tradition and religious practices, while bringing dignity to the memory and sacrifices of past generations and sharing the simplicity of faith.
Here are some ideas for involving those who are elderly in your faith formation program.
- Invite a panel of elderly persons to share their reflections on various topics, such as recalling their First Communion or Confirmation, talking about marriage, coping with suffering, “secrets” for happiness, and more.
- Arrange for young people to be pen pals with those who are elderly, inviting them to exchange communications about what the child is learning in faith formation.
- Invite elderly people to “adopt” young people in the faith formation program and to pray for them, especially when the children are participating in faith formation sessions.
- Invite the older adults to be an audience for certain performances that the young people prepare, such as plays or concerts.
- Invite the elderly to “adopt” a catechist and to pray for the catechist on a regular basis, especially when he or she is teaching.
- Arrange to record videos of seniors talking to children about topics related to the subject matter of their faith formation sessions.
Of course, in all cases, consult with parish and/or diocesan leaders to follow all policies related to safe environment and permissions for being recorded.
What other ways can you think of to involve those who are elderly in our faith formation offerings?
While following all gathering restrictions in your area, invite families to recognize and honor the gifts and wisdom of the generations with resources that accompany Sharing the Wisdom of Time. The book inspired the upcoming Netflix series Stories of a Generation with Pope Francis.