There is no better time to write a “day after” story than today, July 26, the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, grandparents to a young man from Nazareth named Jesus. The parents of Mary, Joachim and Anne were the grandparents par excellence and surely on everyone’s mind as the Church yesterday celebrated the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly.

I’ve had this feast day on my mind for quite some time, well before, in fact, Pope Francis announced on January 31 at the Angelus that he had instituted such a feast day.

You see, two of my dear friends, two amazing women, both of whom are grandmothers, are Catherine Wiley from the UK and Marilyn Henry from Houston, Texas. Catherine founded CGA, the Catholic Grandparents Association some years ago after she became a grandmother and Marilyn coordinates CGA offices in the US. CGA is in 63 nations today!

Here we are celebrating this world day at La Vittoria (all roads lead to Rome and in Rome, all roads lead to La Vittoria) – Marilyn on the L and Catherine on the R in a post-prandial moment!

Catherine opposite her husband Stewart, and Marilyn across from her husband Deacon Ken Henry

The idea for a world day was born after Catherine met so many grandparents on pilgrimages she organized for them in the early years of CGA. Pilgrimages were to Our Lady of Knock in Ireland and to Our Lady of Walsingham in England, near Catherine’s home, at first, then eventually to other shrines, other countries.

CGA and the pilgrimages were Catherine’s passion and even more so was her desire to see the Church celebrate a World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. Over the years – always with Marilyn by her side, in person or in prayer – she had a number of meetings in Rome with Curial officials, especially the dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. She wrote to Pope Benedict, asking him to write a prayer for Grandparents (which he did!) and, over time, all the people who could make such a world day a reality – not least of all Pope Francis! – made that happen. Above all, Pope Francis!  As we found out on Sunday, January 31.

And here we are – the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly is now in the history books!

To say Catherine and Marilyn – who were in Rome with their wonderful, very supportive husbands – were over the moon at this World Day becoming a reality and then to be present for the celebratory Mass, is an understatement. (You’ll hear more about their work, the CGA, the World Day and their reaction on Vatican Insider. I asked them to make time during their short stay in Rome to talk to me).

Marilyn and Catherine had VIP seating for the Mass Sunday and, as they looked around the basilica, they saw not only grandparents and elderly, they saw many of their Roman Curia friends who had made this day possible.

Brunch with Marilyn and Ken Henry –

Pope Francis was still convalescing from his July 4 surgery so did not preside at Mass yesterday. In his stead was Abp. Rino Fisichella, president of the Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, who read the Pope’s touching homily.

Francis did, however, appear at his study window overlooking St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus. He called on everyone to applaud grandparents: “Grandparents and grandchildren, young and old together show the beautiful face of the Church and the covenant between the generations.”

The 10am Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica brought together some 2,000 plus people from the diocese of Rome and some of its associations that carry out pastoral activities for the elderly. There were grandparents with their grandchildren and there were also some elderly, many of whom for the first time were able to leave the homes in which they have been isolated for over a year because of the many pandemic-related precautions.

At the end of the Mass, Abp. Fisichella blessed flowers carried by young people and offered to grandparents with the Pope’s message, “I am with you always,” the theme of this world day!

It was a day that naturally made me think about my own grandparents (on Mom’s side we are Swiss and German and on Dad’s side we are Irish and Welsh!), so many special moments and places and events coming to mind about three of them. We always lived close to all grandparents so that was an extra bonus. One grandmother died when I was three and I have no real memory of her. I thought of my own parents as they became grandparents and lived that role with such zest and joy! SO many stories came to mind! I am not a grandmother but hope I am a spiritual grandmother to my 9 nieces and nephews and my 26 great-nieces and nephews!