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Florida Catholic – ‘Grandparents – a great gift from God’

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On Sept. 26, the Diocese of Palm Beach honored grandparents and their contributions to their families with the first U.S. National Grandparents Pilgrimage.

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Posted: 10.02.09

PALM BEACH GARDENS | Sixteen-year-old Kalyla Jefferson said her grandmother, 80 years young, is definitely a belief and ethics role model, whom she has looked up to and learned from.

“We love my grandma,” she said. “She has always been there for my mom and dad and for us. She is very supportive of everything we do.”

Kalyla and her sister, Kelsey Jefferson, 13, traveled south more than 100 miles from Melbourne Sept. 26 to be there for their beloved granny, West Palm Beach Mary Immaculate parishioner Olga Gidion, for a Mass to honor the older and more experienced. The Mass celebration was part of the National Grandparents Pilgrimage, the first in the United States, and it was held here in the Diocese of Palm Beach at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola.

“This was an important day for me to be here with my grandma,” said Kelsey. “I love her so much.”

More than 150 attended the morning event that included worship, song and liturgical dance, followed by a tribute and cookie reception. Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito was main celebrant for the Mass.

“Grandparents are a wonderful gift – a great gift from God,” he said during his homily that touched on the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anne, maternal grandparents of Jesus, and their powerful example. “God gives us grandparents for a reason and that is to reveal to us more about his life and his love.”

As people arrived, greeters handed out programs and asked children to write prayers dedicated to their grandparents. The prayers were placed on the altar moments before Mass started.

Myriam Ambroise of St. Francis of Assisi in Riviera Beach wrote a simple but lovely prayer. “Dear God, please grant my grandparents longevity and good health. Grant them the desires of their heart.”

Mary Jane Watterson, a parishioner of St. Ignatius Loyola, attended with granddaughters Kate Koedam, 8, and Hannah Koedam, 11. When asked about her relationship with her grandchildren, she smiled and said, “They are in my heart all the time.”

Watterson takes care of her local grandchildren at least once a week, when their mother, Mary Koedam, volunteers at a nonprofit center that helps struggling women in pregnancy crisis. “My grandchildren are very special,” said Watterson. “I have five grandchildren on earth and I have three in heaven.”

The grandparent’s day held here is the first of its kind in America, patterned after pilgrimages in England and Ireland initiated by Catherine Wiley, a part-time resident of Delray Beach, who attends Ascension and St. Joan of Arc parishes in Boca Raton.

“I am moved to tears,” said an emotional Wiley moments before the cathedral celebration. “We are very honored and privileged.”

The grandmother of 10 approached Bishop Barbarito with her pilgrimage concept in December 2008. The idea was well-received and from there she began working with the diocesan Office of Family Life and Marriage to initiate the event that she is hoping will grow like an annual event held at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, which began July 2003 around the feast of Jesus’ maternal grandparents. The England event inspired Ireland’s grandparent’s pilgrimage that launched in 2007. The annual September event is held at Our Lady of Knock Shrine.

“There were 14,000 participants this year,” said Wiley, about the event in Ireland she attended along with Father John Gallagher, parochial vicar of St. Joan of Arc. “Father Gallagher was representing the Diocese of Palm Beach,” she explained. The two overseas events include music, talks, worship, fellowship and prayer.

During the event here, Wiley presented a framed prayer for grandparents to Bishop Barbarito. The prayer idea is also something that came from Wiley’s heart. She presented the concept to the Vatican, and it was embraced by Pope Benedict XVI, who authored the prayer now printed in several languages.

Bishop Barbarito thanked Wiley for the prayer and for proposing the National Grandparents Pilgrimage in America. He also thanked grandparents for their prayerful presence, wisdom, example and inspiration to grandchildren and to faithful in parish communities.

“May you continue to know how much you are loved, how much you are appreciated, how important you are,” said Bishop Barbarito.

An October 2003 Census Bureau report, based on data collected on the long form in the 2000 census, shows that grandparents living in households with their grandchildren are not only teaching the children through their example and knowledge, but also taking on major financial roles in the family life. The report indicates that 42 percent, or 2.4 million of the nearly 5.8 million grandparents, were the main providers responsible for basic needs of children.

Diocesan organizers hope to continue to honor these unsung heroes, showing them how much they are loved for all they do.

“Those who attended were very positive and really wanted another one next year,” said Janice Petersen Minshew, event organizer and coordinator of the diocesan Office of Family Life and Marriage. “I think it went well.”


Written by Catholic Grandparents Association

October 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm