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Photo: Mark Fanders
Shrine Celebrates Grandparents Day
By Breanne Reilly (Sep 14, 2015)
"In my heavy grief, I prayed to the Blessed Mother to wrap her mantle of blue around me," Jane Sweeney said. "I knew that throughout the Bible, there were many passages where God had a special love for widows and children. I had 13 grandchildren and five children in a blended family when I lost my husband."
Addressing the grandparents gathered for the third annual National Grandparents Day celebration at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Sept. 13, Jane told the story of how she lost her beloved husband Bernie in 2012 to Lewy Body Dementia, a disease she called a "family disease."
"It's a family disease because it devastates everybody," she said. "Without Divine Mercy, I would not have made it through."
Jane, 74, is the author of Caregiver: My Love Story — Facing Dementia, an honest and, at times, humorous tale about how her faith carried her while she carried her husband Bernie through his illness.
"People often tell me 'Oh, you must've been so sad,' but I was just so grateful to God that I had had this love, that there were not enough hours in the day to thank God," Jane said.
Jane's story is powerful. It both resonates with struggles families face today and reminds families to keep their faith alive when facing hardships. Jane said grandparents, who are often the ultimate caregivers, have a mission in this world that she summed up by reciting the prayer often attributed to St. Francis:
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy."
Check out our video from the day:
In addition to hosting guest speakers, Grandparents Day was celebrated with a raffle, a Rosary for Families led by the Children's Rosary, a prayer group movement for children from West Hartford, Connecticut, and a Holy Mass to bless the grandparents and their families.
During the homily, Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, the Shrine rector, said the home and family members play a key role in keeping the faith alive because the home is the domestic Church.
"It's in the home that we learn values, it's in the home that we learn to love, it's in the home that we learn discipline, it's in the home that we learn the meaning about life," he said.
Michael La Corte, director of the USA Catholic Grandparents Association, said as patriarchs and matriarchs, grandparents should provide a strong foundation of faith and love for both their children and grandchildren.
"If the foundation is built strong, [the children and grandchildren] will return home," Michael said. "Chances are, they'll wander along the way, sometimes doing God's will without even knowing it."
Michael said that the role of grandparents in keeping the Catholic faith alive will be discussed at the World Meeting of Families that begins on Sept 22, where Pope Francis and families from around the world will gather in Philadelphia to pray, learn, and celebrate the gift of the family.
"The Catholic Church is expanding the theology on the grandparents' role," he said. "Currently, we live in a world where culture is pulling families apart and pulling God out of our lives. Expanding this role is more important right now than it has been in previous generations, because the whole family no longer lives, works, and plays as a unity."
As for the grandparents of families that split up or are struggling, Michael said love, support, and mercy, culminating in prayer, are essential.
"As grandparents, we can help open the door for the Holy Spirit," he said.
Father Anthony said the Church and grandparents face several obstacles today in keeping the faith alive in their children and grandchildren.
"First of all, we're fighting a culture of secularism that's becoming more anti-Christian," he said. "Just look at our laws. It's as if the prophecy for Isaiah is coming true for our time today as it was for Northern Israel. They call good, evil, and evil, good. And it's mixing us up morally."
Father Anthony said our dependence on the media also creates an obstacle because it's used as an escape for problems, impedes socialization, and provides unlimited access to both good and bad knowledge.
"The Internet is today's tree of knowledge of good and evil," he said. "So if you're trying to pass on good faith and values, you're up against this media machine."
Thirdly, Fr. Anthony said the breakdown of the family creates steep obstacles for the Catholic faith and for grandparents.
"There's arguing, fighting, competition, there's envy, there's dissension, infidelity, abuse, addictions, there's a lack of communication. The result is sometimes divorce. And that affects the grandparents, who become caregivers for the grandchildren. This is a reality for today," he said.