The Catholic Church celebrated its first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on July 25th, and a Catholic lesbian couple marked this occasion by reflecting on their lives as grandparents in an essay published in theNational Catholic Reporter.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis established the day on the fourth Sunday of July, which is close to the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, St. Joachim and St. Anne on July 26th. The pope said that the elderly’s “voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and safeguards the roots of peoples.” He continued, “They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.”
On the day of the celebration, in his message to grandparents and the elderly, Francis said:
“I want to tell you that you are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow: the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided. All of us must ‘take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies.’ Among the pillars that support this new edifice, there are three that you, better than anyone else, can help to set up. Those three pillars are dreams, memory and prayer. The Lord’s closeness will grant to all, even the frailest among us, the strength needed to embark on a new journey along the path of dreams, memory and prayer.”
A vital group of grandparents and elderly from which younger generations can learn to brave the journey of “dreams, memory, and prayer” are those within the LGBTQ community.
Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane, a Catholic same-gender couple of 40 years, shared how this World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly invited them to reflect on their story and experiences. The couple have five grandchildren, and they note that their faith and identity as LGBTQ persons shaped their family “experience in significant ways.” For years, they were kept from being involved in the lives of their first two grandchildren. But after a gradual shift in the family’s opinion and treatment, Honour and Kathleen are now central in their family’s lives:
“It didn’t happen overnight, but today we are the matriarchs of our family, and we are very involved in the lives of each of our children and grandchildren. We went from being a secret hidden in the background to being a source of pride and joy, in our families and in this new improved world. This remarkable change did not come easily, but our faith helped us remain strong through all the challenges we faced.”
Honour and Kathleen are involved with DignityUSA, an organization advocating for the rights of LGBTQ Catholics. They have found a community with multiple generations of LGBTQ persons and their loved ones. They hear similar stories of others also experiencing a gradual reconciliation with family members, others tell of affirming family, and others tell of estrangement that many LGBTQ persons still face today.
The Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA), who petitioned for this World Day, hopes that this day of honors the charisms of grandparents and elderly persons and reassures them that they are loved and needed. For LGBTQ Catholics of older generations, this reassurance may not bring as much comfort. Honour and Kathleen write:
“Some of the older members of our community worry about what their futures hold. Like many elders, they do not want to burden family members with care but are concerned about what they might experience should they enter a long-term care residential facility or drop in at the local church for the congregate meal program. Will they encounter a biased environment that forces them back into the closet? Will they be treated badly if caregivers know they are LGBTQ? Will they be able to share a room or suite, as other married couples do? These questions raise real concerns among our circle.”
Joseph Gentilini, another Dignity member, shared in his story of being a grandparent on the organization’s website:
“I am still a practicing Catholic and value my spirituality. My hope is that the Church will finally accept our lives as gifts of God to the Church and our relationship honored. Obviously, I worry about the time when we might need to go to a nursing home. Unfortunately, the only Catholic nursing home here would not allow us to be together as a couple. This is sad and unfortunate. The Church could change this if it wanted.”
The lives and experiences of LGBTQ Catholic grandparents and elders offer abundant wisdom to the church. If our communities deny essential care to them, we lose their dreams, memory, and prayer, which Pope Francis points out are essential elements in bettering societies. LGBTQ elders’ dreams of an inclusive church lead and inspire younger generations to continue the mission. Their memory is crucial in the efforts of reconciliation and their prayer is needed for the Spirit to ignite our hearts in solidarity.
—Elise Dubravec, July 30, 2021