By John Jalsevac

ROME, April 7, 2008 ( – Aging grandparents are increasingly being led to feel like they are burdens on those they love, despite the vital role that they have to play in the life of the family and society, Benedict XVI told the 18th plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family on Sunday, which was addressing the theme of grandparents. In some cases in the current Culture of Death, the Holy Father added, elderly grandparents are even being forced to turn towards the extreme measure of euthanasia as a means to escape the painful sense of being nothing more than a burden.

“In the past,” said Benedict XVI to participants in the assembly, “grandparents played an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even as they got older, they continued to be present for their children, grandchildren and perhaps even great-grandchildren, providing a living witness of kindness, sacrifice and a daily and unreserved giving of self”.

“Who does not recall his grandparents? Who can forget their presence and their testimony in the home? How many among us will bear their name as a sign of continuity and gratitude!”

Benedict stressed that the Church has always reserved great respect for the elderly, who have much to offer in the way of wisdom and experience. The Holy Father quoted his predecessor, John Paul II, who urged an assembly of the elderly in 2000, “Despite the limitations that occur with age, keep the taste of life,” and who spoke of the great beauty of being able to live until the very end “for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And yet, said Benedict, “the ‘culture of death’ seems to be gaining ground on various sides, threatening even the period of old age. With growing insistence, euthanasia is even proposed as a solution to resolve certain difficult situations”.

Hence “it is necessary to react forcefully to that which dehumanizes society. … We must unite to defeat all forms of marginalization together, because it is not just they (grandparents and the elderly) who are overwhelmed by the individualistic mentality, but everyone. If, as is often said, grandparents represent a valuable resource, it is important to make coherent choices in order to take full advantage of them”.

The Holy Father urged grandparents to be a “living presence in the family, in the Church and in society. … May they continue to be witnesses of unity, of values founded on faithfulness to the one love that generates faith and the joy of life. The so-called new models of the family and rampant relativism have weakened these fundamental values of the family nucleus”.

“Faced with the crisis of the family,” the Holy Father asked, “is it not perhaps possible to start afresh from the presence and witness of people (grandparents) who have more robust values and projects?”

He concluded, “It is not, in fact, possible to plan the future without drawing on a past full of significant experiences and of points of spiritual and moral reference.”