When age is an advantage

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Ron and Mavis Pirola, at left, with some of their grandchildren, partners, and great grandchildren. The longtime marriage and family advocates are pleased with Pope Francis’s institution of an annual World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. PHOTO: Supplied

From passing on faith traditions to offering a safety valve for the “pressure cooker” of family life, Dr Ron and Mavis Pirola relish their role as grandparents.

The Sydney pair have eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren and are delighted at the establishment of an annual World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly beginning this 25 July.

“It was great to read the Pope’s reminder in his message for the day of the vocation of grandparents to pass on the faith; in fact, he challenges us to never retire,” they told The Catholic Weekly.

“Grandchildren give added meaning to our lives.  The elderly also benefit from the young; it works both ways” – Dr Ron and Mavis Pirola

“That, of course, includes unmarried aunts and uncles who are ‘significant other adults’ in the lives of their grand nieces and nephews. The witness of their faith-filled lives can have enormous ongoing impact.”

The couple served on the Pontifical Council for the Family over three decades and founded the Parish and Marriage Resource Centre. They also participated in the Synods on the Laity (1987) and the Family (2014) and chaired the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council. They said the announcement of the World Day is a particular joy for the Catholic Grandparents Association which has advocated for one for years.

“The pandemic has made us all aware of the preciousness of close contact with those we love and who love us,” the Pirolas said.

Pope Francis in his message for grandparents and the elderly told them, “The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!”. PHOTO: Paul Haring/CNS

“The theme of the World Day, ‘I am with you always’ reminds us of the closeness of the Lord and the Church with us and it’s a support and consolation as well as a challenge for us to pass on this awareness of Jesus’ presence in our lives.

“It’s a wonderful gift to be a grandparent. Grandchildren give added meaning to our lives.

“The elderly also benefit from the young; it works both ways. While we’re teaching them things, they also teach us. For example, they help us to keep abreast of new trends and technologies. They keep us young.” Apart from being a store of living memories connecting young people to their previous generations, grandparents can also often act as “safety valves”, Mrs Pirola told The Catholic Weekly.

Grandparents’ offer ‘phenomenal’ support

The nuclear family is great but it can become like a pressure cooker,” she said. “It’s not unusual for a grandchild to seek out a ‘sleep or stay over’ with their grandparents at a time of tension at home.”

Dr Pirola, a gastroenterologist with many elderly patients, is often struck by the number of people who are limited in physical ways but who can still pray. “Their prayers can be so powerful because they are the disadvantaged for which Jesus showed so much compassion,” he said.

“In the confusion of a pandemic, older people are the ones with the longest experience of unpredictable and challenging times.

“They are survivors whose experiences often include migration, war, droughts, bushfires, financial recessions, business failures, to name just some. They can provide perspective in the face of uncertainty. This is relevant in terms of mental health, especially of the young.

“The elderly are stabilising influences for young people who are rattled because of their limited experience of danger.”

The couple believe much can be learned from other cultures about the importance of respect for elders for maintaining a cohesive and harmonious society.

Bishop Richard Umbers will celebrate a Mass in honour of the day on Saturday 24 July from 10am, which will be livestreamed on the St Mary’s Cathedral You Tube channel.

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