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Pope Francis greets journalists aboard his flight from Rome to Dublin Aug. 25. The pope is attending the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and is scheduled to meet with survivors of clerical sexual abuse. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-DUBLIN-ARRIVE Aug. 25, 2018.

Francis and friends

— In 2016, during one of his daily prayer sessions, Pope Francis received an inspiration: to shine a light on the vital role of grandparents and other elders. He began to preach frequently about the world’s need to pay close attention to our elders and their wisdom. He also wanted a book that would highlight the voices of those who have lived the longest, affirming they have valuable, life-changing wisdom to share. That book, Sharing the Wisdom of Time has now been published by Messenger Publications in association with Loyola Press. We feature some extracts from the Holy Father responding to people from all walks of life who contributed to this unique book.

1) Yenifer Tatiana Valencia Morales, coordinator for unbound, Columbia, which sponsors children and the elderly.

Interviewed by Rosemary Lane:

Q) What motivated you to work with the elderly?

A) “To know their stories. They trust their lives to me. I listen to them and understand them.

“Despite my young age, I try to help them, encourage them to better themselves, to continue with their Faith. That motivates me to keep going.

“This week, I asked an elderly woman, ‘Where do you sleep?’ She started crying. I asked, ‘Why are you crying?’ She said, ‘It is just that I am embarrassed because you have the look of a very rich girl.’ I told her, ‘Of course. I am rich. Rich in the smiles you show me, in the hugs you give me, in the stories you tell me. As far as the rest, I am just like you. Come on, tell me what is in your mind.’

“She started to smile and said, ‘It’s just that my bed is in really bad shape, and my house has many leaks. I sleep with my daughter because at home I get drenched.’

“Along with some friends from the community who are well-off, I am helping her fix her roof and buy a bed. Now, every time the woman sees me, she smiles. That delights me.”

 

Q) How do you feel when you discover that someone lives under those conditions?

A) “I did not cry with that woman because I needed to encourage her. But the heart gets wrinkled. Sometimes you feel powerless because you cannot say, ‘Here, grandma, take this and go and fix your roof, buy food, buy yourself a bed, buy yourself a dress.’

“But you can say, ‘Come on. Take my hand, and let’s look for a solution together.’

“‘Let’s tell each other jokes so that the heart can get unwrinkled, at least a bit.’”

 

Q) Why do you think it is important for young adults to have a relationship with the elderly?

 A) “The elderly are the ones with the experience. They have already lived; they may have stumbled but got up and kept going.

“We don’t yet have a history. They are the ones to guide us. I feel that I have listened and shared so much with the elderly that my life is in the path of what they have taught me.

“Working with the elderly has been good for me in every aspect. I did not have the chance to live with my mother or father; I was raised by a far removed aunt who was already an elder.

“My mum never gave me a lot. But I will never leave her because the stories you hear from the elderly who are left alone are heartbreaking. So I will never do that.”

 

Q) Do you feel like you are an old soul?

 A) “My sisters have told me that I am [laughs]. That I’m Like a grandmother who sits and talks to them.

“I haven’t noticed it, but many people have seen it in me.”

 

Q) Why are you devoted to serving the elderly at age 20 when so many other young people are doing other things?

A) “I have time to have fun, to go out, to take a walk. I have time for everything. I also have time to listen to the elderly. I love it. Grandparents will always be willing to tell you a story.”

 

Pope Francis’ Response:

“I like what Yenifer says: ‘We don’t yet have a history!’ Those words belong to a person who is waiting in anticipation.

“Young men and women who are able to listen to older people are humble; they face life with their eyes open, ready to build something significant.

Young people who have no time for their elders or disregard them do so because they have no sense of history.

“Making history is not the same thing as surviving! Human beings were created by God to make history, not just to survive in the jungle of life. God says to Adam and Eve: ‘Go ahead, grow, multiply, make history…’

“To Abraham he says, ‘Go ahead, get up, walk, look at the sky, look at the horizon, walk, go, make history!’

“Our God wants to join us in our history. He mixes himself into our sins and into our failures. Just read the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: God walks in the personal story of so many people, so many sinners. God is not ashamed to enter the story of so many sinners; he is not ashamed of his people.

“Not wanting to make history is a parasitic attitude. Watching life from the balcony is wanting everything brought to you like a Christmas gift; perhaps a nice though useless gift you quickly set aside.

“Yenifer understands that she is called to make history. This is why she listens to and understands the older people she works with.

“She learns from them. She learns by helping them. In fact, when she meets older people, she listens to their dreams, and this fuels her vision of the future. Go forward!”

 

2) Berta Golob, 85, writer and retired teacher based in Slovenia:

“For years, I taught teenagers at an institute for children and adolescents. They’d many harmful traits, such as stealing, verbal and physical violence.

“It was the worst when someone insulted their mother—who was often a prisoner, a prostitute, or an alcoholic.

“Their response was a slap in the face or a punch in the stomach. All they wanted was to disfigure the offender’s face and knock him or her down.

“At that moment, I understood why it is important for educators in such institutes to be like guardian angels at every step those teenagers take. For somewhere deep down in their misery, there was a burning fire of love denied in every possible way.

“Many people don’t know that in the heart of every single person, even in the most dangerous criminals, there is a bit of generosity, even if he or she doesn’t know how to express it in any other way than with wild rudeness.

“Those troubled adolescents taught me to recognise the bright light behind all the shadows. Love does not exist in boasting or showing off. On the contrary, love is silent and often hurts in silence.

“I think that the face of love, although bruised, cannot be anything other than the holy face of God.”

 

Pope Francis’ response:

“Berta’s story illustrates one of love’s basic stances: do not let appearances fool you; look under the ashes for the fire, the ember, the coals, and the flame. This is a great piece of wisdom. An 85-year-old woman like Berta has learned it well.

“She can dream of a better world and help the children develop a vision of a different world.

“The young people she took care of were tortured souls and also violent. The time she spent with them taught her to go beyond appearances and not to look at them superficially. A branch may be broken and not completely broken off. It can still bring sap to the fruit. You have to observe carefully to discern the sap passing to the fruit.

“When you stand in front of the ashes of human misery, do not be discouraged and say that the fire has totally burnt itself out. The wisdom derived from life’s experiences teaches us to look beyond the present moment.

“When talking about human beings, never voice a lack of confidence. That would be a serious temptation.

“To overcome mistrust, you have to have much love and the ability to be silent, to wait, and not to react instinctively.

“You should not be impulsive. This is a grace. Under the ashes, there is often a coal that shouldn’t be put out but actually deserves to be fanned into flame.”

 

3) Film director Martin Scorsese:

“When you’re young, you imagine that there’s an ideal state called ‘success.’ You’d struggle, you’d be recognised, you’d finally ‘arrive,’ and. . . The End. But arrive where? To do what? Take it easy?

“The saying goes that success is fleeting. It comes and goes, and comes again and then goes again.

“To be acclaimed, validated—sheer euphoria. But it can be a trap because it might lead you to believe you’re permanently safe from further failure and rejection. And then, when you make something that isn’t greeted as warmly or that’s even hated, you’ll feel like the bottom has dropped out.”

 

Pope Francis’ response:

“I cannot accept the saying, ‘Everyone is born with their fate already written.’ It’s just not true.

“Our life is not given to us as an already scripted opera libretto. Our life does not play out like a movie where the scenes are all predetermined. A movie director may know this better than anyone else.

“We must let ourselves freely encounter life and God. And sometimes life will surprise us like a sudden and unexpected insight. Failures cannot stop us if we feel the fire in our heart. And the one who says, ‘You are worth nothing’ cannot stop us.

“There are opportunities and inspirations that bring you forward in your vocation. There are opportunities, of course, and there are some mistakes. With all of this mixed together, you create your life. Life is a mixture that the elder knows well. Hiding mistakes is useless.

“You learn from your mistakes and failures, as Martin says. To say, ‘My life is already written’ is a meaningless excuse, a useless abstraction.

“Your life is not determined. You need to take what comes to you. Use what you have in your mind and in your heart. Use it on your journey to discern and discover what you most desire.

“What really leads you forward is the sense of vocation. It is a call, which is far more than a choice. And this brings you to give yourself, without holding back.

“You have to take everything in your life, mix it all together, and, with this mixture, move forward.

“The success of life is not glory but patience. Sometimes you need a lot of it. The wise elder has so much patience. And this is the wisdom that leads you to dream.”

 

4) Peter Broadbent, 75, father and member of a Catholic deaf club.

Interviewed by Peter McDonough:

“A deaf couple I knew asked me to give them a lift to the Catholic Deaf Club for about two months because the husband was recovering from a heart condition.

“I took them and used to wait in my car. But one Sunday, after having waited a long time, I went and knocked on the door.

“One of the sisters opened the door and asked me to go in rather than wait in my car. I saw the deaf community, but I felt unsure and out of place.

“However, in time I got to know them and, being deaf, felt drawn to their Mass in sign language. I began to attend regularly. I waited seven years before I decided to become a Roman Catholic. One of the priests gave me instructions in sign language.

“I felt good within myself and realised that Faith was important. I took the Church’s teaching more seriously.

“In my employment, I worked long hours and often worried about my family. I would pray to God, sharing any other worries I had. In my mind, I often have a conversation with God in sign language.

“Communication in sign language is so very important. If there were no Church service in sign language, I would be completely lost.”

 

Sharing the Wisdom of Time by Pope Francis and friends is published by Messenger Publications priced £22.50.

Available from all good bookshops or www.messenger.ie

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