Many years ago, in the summer of 1995, my family and I accompanied family friends on a trip to Canada. While we were there, we made a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montréal, and to the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré in the vicinity of Québec City.
I remember attending Sunday Mass at the Basilica of St. Anne (formerly a Shrine in 1995, recently elevated to Basilica). It must have been peak pilgrimage season because the majestic church was packed with flocks and flocks of people. Several people with various disabilities were there, invited to sit near the very front. The Basilica is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Blessed Virgin Mary, and the grandmother of Jesus. Apparently devotion to her is so strong among faithful Catholics in Québec and throughout Canada as there must have been several pilgrims from all over the country. There, at the Basilica, the granting of many miracles and special favors are attributed to the intercession of St. Anne, made evident by the invitation for the people with special needs to sit in the front. This certainly makes sense because grandparents lavish so much love on their grandchildren and feel for them when they undergo any sort of hardship or suffering.
Today I reflect on this moment in my life because it is the Feast Day of Saints Joachim and Anne. I don’t recall all the details, and I wasn’t paying very much attention – – lukewarm as I was, but I am so grateful for having been there. It was the prayers of people like my grandparents on both sides, all deceased now, that must have contributed in bringing me to where I am, committed in my faith. I did not get to have the experience of growing up with my grandparents but I know they prayed for me through the years and their prayers must have been powerful! And if that is the case, how much more powerful is the intercession of my spiritual grandparents, the grandparents of Jesus? Anyone who is in Christ have St. Joachim and St. Anne as their own grandparents. Grandparents pass on the faith to their children and their children’s children. I imagine how St. Joachim and St. Anne gave such a beautiful example of devotion and love and provided a witness of virtue and fidelity to God. This is the environment in which the Blessed Virgin Mary grew up in. We may imagine that it is the environment in which Jesus was nourished in, if not directly, then through his mother.
Currently Pope Francis is in Canada, especially to be among the native people of that country as a penitential pilgrim and bridge builder of reconciliation (offering an apology on behalf of of members of the Church who perpetrated and overlooked tragic abuses against indigenous children as well as those who wrongly cooperated in the suppression of native language and customs, those which are compatible with Christianity). As I’ve been watching, I have witnessed such a resilient and strong faith among the First Peoples. Among them is a great devotion to St. Joachim and St. Anne and it is so beautiful to see. Pope Francis noted in his homily today, at Holy Mass in Edmonton Stadium (Alberta), that the elderly are indispensable in passing on the faith and keeping customs alive. In this way, they imitate St. Joachim and St. Anne who surely handed on knowledge of Scripture and the practice of prayer to their daughter Mary, and their grandson Jesus.
The elderly are to be respected and honored – – this was a main theme that Pope Francis returned to in the evening when he addressed the native community and mostly native audience at Lake St. Anne in Alberta. He mentioned how respecting the elderly would do much to help youth so much in need of direction. Loss of respect for elders through things including euthanasia goes hand and hand with a delinquency in youth. In addition, the Pope praised the role of grandparents as effective evangelizers:
“Faith rarely comes from reading a book alone in a corner; instead, it spreads within families, transmitted in the language of mothers, in the sweetly lyrical accents of grandmothers. It warms my heart to see so many grandparents and great-grandparents here. I thank you and would like to say to all those families with elderly people at home: you possess a treasure! Guard this source of life within your homes: take care of it, as a precious legacy to be loved and cherished.”
May Saints Joachim and Anne bless all families; May they intercede on behalf of all elderly persons that they be respected and reverenced so that the generations following theirs will benefit from their wisdom and witness of faith!
At the time of this post, the next stop for the Pope will be in Québec where he will visit the Basilica of St. Anne for a special Mass.