"Thank you for coming in such large numbers! And thank you for your festive welcome. Today this is your celebration. It is our celebration! I thank Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia and all those who have prepared this ceremony. I especially thank Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for his presence. I have said many times that I would like so much for him to live here in the Vatican, because it’s like having a wise grandfather at home. Thank you!"
Pope Francis spoke these words of gratitude on Sunday, September 28th, on the occasion of "The Blessing of Long Life" as he welcomed more than 30,000 grandparents gathered in St. Peter's Square, "led by the first of them": Benedict XVI.
The Holy Father recalled how " We Christians, together with all people of good will, are called to patiently build a more diverse, more welcoming, more humane, more inclusive society, that does not need to discard the weak in body and mind. On the contrary we need a society which measures its success on how the weak are cared for."
This morning of sunshine and cheerfulness—accompanied by the performances of Andrea Bocelli, Massimo Ranieri and Claudio Baglioni—was animated, on the square in front of the basilica, by testimonies of elderly people from different parts of the world. The most moving witness was certainly that of two Iraqi refugees, Mubarak and Aneesa Hano, an elderly Christian couple with ten children and twelve grandchildren, who shared with the Pope the beautiful account of determination and faith of the parish of Alqosh, a town just north of Mosul. There, after the terrorists Isis had imposed by force the silence of the church bells, Don Ghazwan, the parish priest, decided on the feast of the Assumption that they ring again for seven days, thus releasing once again in the plain Nineveh a voice that has accompanied everyone, be they Christian or not, for more than 2 thousand years.
Another moving experience was shared by Father Sebastian, a Capuchin monk who cares for more than 120 seniors in "Francis and Clare" home and very often has to do with guests who are particularly lonely and vulnerable, for example those with Alzheimer's. "One of these is Raffaele—the elderly brother said, visibly moved—a man who is lost and never sleeps, makes gestures that are strange for him and for those around him. We are unceasingly searching for a key that will let us into his universe and ease this family’s pain. Yet, we do everything to ensure that Raffaele realizes that we are not abandoning him, that we are with him in this mental pit, and so that Raffaele may feel close to Jesus."
Finally, there was the very significant testimony of an Irish boy, Tom, who spoke to the Holy Father as if he were his own grandfather: "Dear Pope, my grandparents encouraged me to pray always, but once when I was really scared, while we were in the air, I was very impressed by their example of prayer to God. Pope Francis, you too were a child and listened to the wisdom of your grandparents. Today, please be like a grandfather for us children and we love you very much. Help us to understand how big the role of grandparents in the family really is."