12 September 2010
Homily of Bishop John McAreavey at the Fourth National Grandparents’ Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Knock Shrine
- 10,000 grandparents expected to attend pilgrimage Mass followed by Eucharistic Adoration
- See below dedicated prayer for grandparents, composed by Pope Benedict XVI
- Prayers by grandchildren from across the country, about their grandparents, blessed during the pilgrimage
- Special web feature with Bishop McAreavey video interview and highlights from 2009 pilgrimage on www.catholicbishops.ie
Today we gather for the National Grandparents pilgrimage. This Mass is an opportunity for us all to thank God for our parents and for what they meant to us.
I only knew one grandparent, my Granny Quinn, who only died in 1988. I was her first grandchild and I think I had a special place in her affection. As a child, even before I went to school I stayed at her house. My parents would come to collect me on a Sunday and one Sunday evening I could not be found when they were ready to go home; I hid, because I wanted to stay! I loved staying with my Granny and my uncle Phelim, probably because I was spoilt there and got loads of attention!
My father’s mother, my granny McAreavey, died before I was born. She had been an invalid for many years and needed constant care. As I grew up, people who had known her used visit our home and we heard a lot about her. One friend of our family, Maureen Feeney, who spent a lot of time at our home before I was born used to talk about how my grandmother and my aunt always said the Rosary and how theirs was a very prayerful home. Maureen used to say, ‘No wonder you became a Bishop, with all the prayers that were said in that house!’ I like to believe that too!
I am aware that among the grandparents who are here today there are many ‘super-grandparents’ or, as they are normally called, great-grandparents. My own mother who is here today with my niece now has three great-granddaughters and I am sure she hopes to live to see many more. One of the great joys of my life has been to see these grandchildren (my nephews and nieces) come into the world, grow up and become adults. I have already celebrated two marriages of that generation and four more are due to marry over the next year or so.
As a Bishop, I meet grandparents regularly at confirmation. They are always there, proud and happy, alongside the parents of the children who are being confirmed. It is a real pleasure to meet grandparents and to hear them talk about their grandchildren. Last year in Newry, to make some conversation over a cup of tea after confirmation I asked a woman if she had stood for her grandson. ‘Yes, she said, I have stood for them all. I might get a priest yet!’ I hope she does!
This pilgrimage very properly celebrates the faith, dedication and generosity of grandparents and great-grandparents. We should not forget that they were also parents. We pray God’s blessing on the parents of today, those people who – in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – are still fulfilling their most important role, providing for their children, worrying about them, supporting them in their early years, through school or further education or apprenticeships. We pray for the parents of today who struggle to hold on to their own faith and to help their children to find, or hold on to faith.
I mention this today, because it seems to me that, in addition to living their own lives and coping with the joys and strains of getting older, the greatest privilege of grandparents is to support their own children who are now parents. It has been well established that the grandparents of today make a very important contribution to supporting the parents of today in so many practical ways.
Jesus told three stories of people rejoicing over finding things that were lost in response to accusations that he was too welcoming to sinners: the farmer who lost a sheep; the woman who lost the ten drachmas, the father who lost his sons. This last story, the story of the Prodigal Son, is actually about a father losing two sons: the first throws up his head as a teenager, goes off and behaves badly. When he falls on hard times and returns in disgrace, he finds that his father is so pleased with his return that he organises a celebration; his father wants to celebrate because – as he says – his younger son ‘was lost and is found’. The older son is offended at the generosity of his father turns out to be the son who is truly lost; his small-mindedness prevents him from entering into the celebration of his father. It would appear that, despite his dutiful service to his father, he has not really learnt what it means to be a son. Jesus, in today’s Gospel challenges us to be generous and forgiving. He also warns us about religious intolerance. At the end of the Gospel story, the two sons remain unreconciled. The task of reconciliation remains forever incomplete; each new generation has to work at this, each family, each workplace, each Church.
In the context of this pilgrimage, I would pray that grandparents would help their own children and their grandchildren to love one another and to make peace at times of tension. Grandparents, by their example and the witness of their lives, can also lead their grandchildren towards God, towards prayer. Like the grandmother I met in Newry last year, they can help the next generation to respond to the vocation that God has for them.
Today grandparents have the opportunity to thank God for the grace of being grandparents, all the joy and pride that being a grandparent brings. Today is also a day for parents and grandchildren to express their gratitude to grandparents for so much practical help, advice and encouragement. For all of us, this celebration gives a chance to thank God for the fidelity, generosity and wisdom of grandparents.
Notes to editors:
- The 2010 National Grandparents Pilgrimage Mass take place today in Knock Shrine, preceded by Anointing of the Sick at 2.00pm.
- Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, was Principal Celebrant and he preached this homily.
- Breda O’Brien, teacher and ‘Irish Times‘ columnist offered a reflection during the pilgrimage.The music was led by Michael English, Dana and Chloe Coyle from Tyrone, winner of RTÉ’s 2010 All-Ireland’s Talent show. Choral singing was provided by the Mayo School of Music Youth Choir, Cill Aodáin Choral Society and Our Lady’s Choir, Castlebar.
- The first National Grandparents Pilgrimage was held in Knock Shrine in 2007. Over 5,000 people attended this pilgrimage. Since then up to 10,000 grandparents and their families have been coming to the pilgrimage.
- A National Prayer appeal has been launched in the run up to this year’s pilgrimage. Grandchildren from across the country have written prayers for and about their grandparents. These were blessed at this year’s pilgrimage.
- See www.catholicbishops.ie for a special web feature on Ireland’s National Grandparents’ Pilgrimage.
- In 2008, a dedicated universal ‘Prayer for Grandparents’ was written by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the National Grandparents’ Pilgrimage. This special prayer was presented for the first time in Knock at that year’s pilgrimage by Catherine Wiley, Co-ordinator of the pilgrimage, and it reads:
you were born of the Virgin Mary,
the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.
Look with love on grandparents the world over.
Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society.
Support them! As they grow older,
may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions.
Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.
help families and society
to value the presence and roles of grandparents.
May they never be ignored or excluded,
but always encounter respect and love.
Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them.
Mary, Mother of all the living,
keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00 353 86 172 7678