Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty for World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly 2023

25 Jul 2023

Bishop Denis Nulty celebrated Mass for World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly 2023 during the National Grandparents Pilgrimage to Knock Shrine on Sunday 23 July. The theme for World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly 2023 is “His Mercy is From Age to Age” (Lk.1:50).


Since 2005 the Catholic Grandparents Association and their friends have been coming on pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Eucharistic and Marian Shrine here at Knock. Wednesday next, marks the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of Our Lady and the grandparents of Jesus. In January 2021 Pope Francis asked that we observe a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly suggesting that this day be celebrated on the closest Sunday to the Feast of Ss Joachim and Anne. This year that Sunday falls today.

While being celebrated in every diocese today, the Irish celebration takes place this afternoon here in Knock, a celebration that coincides with the Catholic Grandparents Association Annual Pilgrimage.

You are all very welcome. Stand up grandparents! Stand up those who feel they have lived a long life and have more living to do! Let’s show our appreciation for the wonderful part all of you play in our Church, in our families, in our world. I’m conscious there are also many joining us through the Shrine webcam. From wherever you are this Sunday afternoon, a special welcome for you here at Knock.

In this third edition of the World Day, Pope Francis has offered us the theme: “His mercy is from age to age[1]. It’s a clear link with the fourteenth World Youth Day taking place in early August in Lisbon. All generations are connected; all generations are joined at the hip. Young people learn so much from their grans, from their grandads, from the elderly relatives and friends they encounter. Grandparents have lived a good life, the elderly have lived a long life.

You people know what it’s like to be forgiven, to experience God’s mercy. And so as we gather in this sacred place of Knock, in this beautiful basilica, let’s turn to the Lord for His mercy is indeed from age to age and so we pray …


My last grandparent died in 1974. Gran Gran we called her. She was kindness personified. She always kept a stash of liqurice sweets, as we grew older we got to know her secret hiding places!

Flicking through a prayer book from childhood days recently, out fell a little card she gave me to mark my First Holy Communion Day. It’s because of Gran Gran that I now know the exact date I received Holy Communion for the very first time – 23 May 1970. I have no card from Gran Gran to honour the day of Confirmation, she would have died some months earlier.

Older people like my Gran Gran have a great sense of time, a great appreciation of the occasion, no matter what is being celebrated. Gran Gran’s little prayer cards are but a reminder of someone who taught me a lesson I never forgot, a lesson to appreciate and date the moment.

Since that young age I keep a daily diary. Diaries date moments, events, sometimes significant, many times obscure. My childhood diaries simply recorded a visit to cousins, or indeed calling down to see Gran Gran. Today the matters noted might be a little more substantial but the intent remains the same.

One of the jobs that appeared occasionally in those early childhood diaries was the task of weeding her rose bed and flower beds. Gran Gran often asked her grandchildren to help her, particularly in her later years. She loved her roses but not the weeds. She taught me the difference between a hybrid tea or floribunda and a seven leafed wild rose!. Weeding was never our favourite job, while the liqurice sweets were the reward, sometimes even for a ten or eleven year old you might ask yourself were they really worth it!

In all my years weeding, I never wed a darnel. From my research darnel is a eurasian ryegrass, with poisonous seeds, often found in grainfields. The spikes of the darnel are more slender than the wheat. When they ripen, the wheat turns a golden brown, the darnel turns black. So you can see the wisdom in todays parable of leaving the darnel until harvest time. Only then it’s easy to separate one in a bundle to be burnt, the second ready for the barn.

It’s a lesson on patience. Older people have been around longer, seen a lot and can have a much more balanced view on life. That is why Pope Francis wants to shine a spotlight on the invaluable role played by grandparents and older people in our world.

He himself enjoys richness of years and experience, and we see that so often as he goes off the script to speak to the little child who wanders up to him during a formal audience or an official engagement. In his message for this World day he says of young people: “those who focus only on the here and now, on money and possessions, on ‘having it all now’, are blind to the way God works. His loving plan spans past, present and future; it embraces and connects the generations[2].

This interconnectivity of the ages is critical in the mind of Pope Francis and in the very origins of this day. A day which is the answer to the persistent prayerful petitioning as far back as 2012 of local woman Catherine Wiley founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association.

Catherine and others realised young people have the capacity to learn so much from their grans, their nanas, their gaga’s, those around them who have lived a long and fulfilled life. Pope Francis invites the young to visit their grandparents before heading off to Lisbon for World Youth Day.

The first thing my mother would do when she went to the church on a Sunday was light a candle. My dad joked she would have us broke with all the candles she lit! Both are now years in eternity, keeping a keen eye on all of us from above.

But when things are tough who do we go to ask for prayers? Whose candles are lit on mantlepieces or on church shrines? Grandparents for their grandchildren. Older people for younger friends. I couldn’t but notice today as soon as many of you arrived at Knock, you were puchasing candles at the candle shrine for different intentions.

The theme this year comes from Saint Luke: “His mercy is from age to age[3]. This verse reminds us God’s mercy is manifested in history through the testimonies of those who have experienced it and passed it on to their children and grandchildren. Grandparents and the elderly through their fullsome life teach us all about God’s mercy. They have seen it all and have not been found wanting.

I know in the diocese how much I learn from our older priests and religious, they still have so much to contribute to the life of our Church by their wisdom and rich experience. The older we become our skin can become more tough, but our hearts are much more tender. Children can sometimes feel their parents don’t understand them, don’t get it, but grandparents and older relatives always can be depended upon to have that listening ear.

The Covid pandemic showed us the special place those of advanced years and grandparents hold in all our affections. The Nursing Home visits that operated through glass screens. The family visits where social distance was observed. The hospital car parks where we waited as a loved one breathed their last, the hardest thing was the feeling they were on their own. While nurses and healthcare front line teams were exceptional, they were not family, those memories still are raw.

It is estimated in Europe that one third of the elderly live alone, a percentage that continues to rise. The big disease affecting our elderly, our grandparents cannot be cured by a tablet or a prescription, in fact its not a medical one but actually loneliness and the fear of being left alone. It’s no wonder Pope Francis wants our young people to visit their grandparents and those around them who have live long fulfilled lives and still have a little living to do.

I realise this is a new day in the cycle of the universal Church. You can be certain it is one now firmly embedded in our liturgical calendars. I want to put before you a challenge between now and next year. Go home and tell at least five people about this important celebration, maybe even invite them to join you in Knock next year!

Pope Francis recently announced the next Jubilee Year for the Church will be 2025 with a special celebration for grandparents planned in Rome over the weekend of October 4 and 5, 2025. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a large group of Irish grandparents and the elderly in Rome with Pope Francis for that event?

Grandparents and those who have lived a very fulfilled life, like the grandparents have a lot more living to do, are at the heart of every family, every parish, every diocese. You have harvested many times. You know your wheat from your darnel. You exempify patience in how you deal with health issues and often family concerns. I encourage you as you return home this evening to be that sign of hope for all of us and for the whole Church. We need you!

Our Lady, Queen of Knock, pray for us.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.

Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.

[1] Lk.1:50

[2] Pope Francis, Message for the Third World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly, 23 July 2023 released Rome, 31 May 2023

[3] Lk.1:50