Grandparents passing on the faith Australian members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Ron and Mavis Pirola of Sydney, have spoken at the Council’s Plenary Assembly in Rome of the inspirational care being provided to children by their grandparents, often in difficult circumstances. The 18th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family (PCF) has concluded at the Vatican, following an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal George Pell, who is a Member of the Presidential Committee, was principal celebrant at the opening Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. In addition to the 20 Member Couples of the PCF, including Ron and Mavis, the meeting was attended by Consultors of the PCF, invited experts and representatives of Family and Life Movements. Ron and Mavis said that in the deliberations it was noted that the ratio of grandparents to grandchildren is at its highest level in human history. It is expected to rise still further before receding again. This demographic shift, together with other changes in society, has both positive and negative aspects for the older generation. Grandparents have the gift of time and their presence can play an important role as ‘significant other adults for young children’, supporting the values of the parents. A recurring theme of presentations at the Assembly was the stabilising influence of grandparents. Their collective wisdom and their memories are like a ‘library of values’ for society, providing a sense of continuity and hope for the future. Nowhere is this more evident than in passing on the faith to the youngest generation. This role is of increasing importance in modern society and it needs to be affirmed. Also, the grandparent-grandchild relationship is an interplay of mutual benefit. Playing with their grandchildren helps grandparents to relive their own childhood. As they deal with generations X and Y, they learn new ways of thinking. Grandparents experience a sense of self’-worth in this reciprocal giving. Challenges include social isolation of grandparents, as a result of family breakdown and geographical mobility, and utilitarian attitudes that undermine respect for the elderly. The care of grandchildren is one of the great joys of grandparents. However, it can also be a heavy burden. This applies especially to the growing number of grandparents, some 20,000 in Australia, who become prime carers of grandchildren. This occurs most often as a result of drug and alcohol problems among the parents. It is worth nothing that the law does not require grandparents to undertake this role’’, Ron and Mavis said in a paper presented at the Assembly. ‘However, out of love, they do so readily, often at great personal cost. It is a phenomenon that is independent of economic circumstances. Indeed in some of the most disadvantaged Aboriginal communities, the care of grandchildren by grandparents is quite inspirational’.