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Photo: Mitchell Kruszyna

Grandparents' Day in the Sun

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By Chris Sparks (Sep 8, 2014)
It was a party for the ages — all ages.

View our photo gallery from the day here.

On Sunday, Sept. 7, the 2014 National Grandparents Day, grandparents and grandchildren came on pilgrimage to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Sponsored by the Catholic Grandparents Association's branch in the northeastern United States, the second annual Grandparents Pilgrimage featured fun activities for all ages, whether those were face painting, a variety of games, and prayer balloons for the young, or walking the grounds of Eden Hill, workshops on sharing the faith with their grandchildren, and times of quiet prayer and contemplation for those blessed with many years.

"We're trying to expand every year," said Alicia Belanger of Sts. Peter and Casimir Parish in Westfield, Mass., the founder of the northeastern US branch of the Association and organizer of the pilgrimage. "I want to see grandparents and families come and enjoy a day together. We've gotten away from Sundays with family. Sundays are now for sports, and grandparents usually follow their grandkids around to the sports field, but for one Sunday of the year, come on, treat grandma and grandpa. It's their day. Come on up, enjoy a picnic with them, meditate with them, get back to your family roots and with God."

Alicia had arranged a number of ways for families to do just that. The youth choir "Psalm 33" from Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Westfield, Mass., performed at the start of the day's festivities, followed by the husband and wife team Jose (aka the Christian hip hop artist KodeRedd) and Gigi Gonzales, founders of Every Step Matters (ESM) Ministry based in Westfield, Mass.

Mary Lou Bonfitto, also from Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, shared the story of Fatima, offering the kids a chance to color pictures of the Fatima story and presenting to grandparents an array of books, prayer cards, and other resources they could use to hand on the message and call of Fatima to their grandchildren.

Diane Czerwiecki, a member of the Schoenstatt Community in Westfield, Mass., shared Mother of Mercy Messengers's Divine Mercy for Young Hearts program with both grandparents and some of the children in attendance, talking through the basics of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.

Other activities included a variety of games, a raffle, a Rosary procession with a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima around the life-sized Stations of the Cross on Eden Hill, Adoration, and Confession. Cristina, Sophia, and Joseph Roselli from Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Westfield, Mass., made a return appearance as Lucia dos Santos and Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the three Fatima children, to speak from the visionaries' perspective.

When asked what drew them to attend, grandparent after grandparent said the same: to pray for their children and grandchildren, that they would keep the faith.

Betty Mitchell, a member of the Catholic Grandparents Association, was volunteering for the first time at the pilgrimage. When asked why she was involved in the Association, she said, "Well, I have eight grandchildren of my own and I think it's very important to pray for them and for their faith. They're the future of the Catholic Church, and even if they're not Catholic, they need to be prayed for to keep their faith in Jesus Christ. That's the main thing."

She'd attended the pilgrimage to the Shrine last year and returned this year as a volunteer. "I think it's a good thing," she said. "We have the Mass with the bishop here. It's wonderful. It's joyous."

Hundred of pilgrims attended the afternoon Mass at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine. The Youth Choir from St. Anne's Parish in Lenox, Mass., provided the music. The lead celebrant was the Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., who also led the 3 o'clock devotions.

"On Grandparents Day, we celebrate the wisdom that is given to those who've been granted a blessing of years," said Bishop Rozanski in his homily, "who in those years have learned the importance of the words of the readings that we heard today, the wisdom that comes with the power of correction of others, with the power of teaching others, with the power of leading others, particularly children and grandchildren, in the ways of the faith.

"We thank God for the faith that has been given to us," the bishop continued, "for the ways in which grandparents pass that faith on to future generations through their witness and through their sacrifice. Today we rejoice that the Lord calls each one of us as witnesses to this great faith and as those disciples of this day and age, to pass that faith to future generations so that His Gospel may continue to transform our world and to lead all closer to Him."

Read Bishop Rozanski's homily.

The Catholic Grandparents Association grew out of a series of pilgrimages for grandparents founded by Catherine Wiley, who spoke at the Marians' 2014 Bronx Divine Mercy Conference.

"Alicia came to me awhile back and said that she'd had a very interesting visit with Catherine Wiley in Ireland," said Fr. Bill Wallis, pastor of the Belangers' home parish in Westfield and concelebrant of the Mass at the Shrine. She wanted to bring the Catholic Grandparents Association to the United States, he said, first to the parish, and then to the diocese. "So we celebrated Mass up here a year ago. That was our beginning," said Fr. Bill.

"We certainly want to pray for the success of this Catholic Grandparents movement because I think it has an awful lot to offer, not just to individual families, but to parishes as a whole," he continued. "It really points out the role the grandparents should have in the faith formation of their grandchildren and in the children of the parishes as a whole."

To all you grandparents and grandchildren who couldn't make the pilgrimage this year, Alicia has one thing to say.

"Plan for next year. It's going to happen Sunday, Sept. 6."

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