Strength and tenderness

1st May 2016 - by Stephen Awre

CycloneWinston3 (web750)
Natanuku, a catechist in Fiji, holds his grandchild by the family home destroyed by Cyclone Winston in February 2016.
Find out more about our work on:

Following the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston on 20-21 February, Fr. Sean Coyle reflects on the importance of the family, especially grandparents, and of passing on the Christian faith in times of adversity. 

‘We have to care in a special way for children and for grandparents. Children and young people are the future; they are our strength; they are what keep us moving forward. They are the ones in whom we put our hope. Grandparents are a family’s memory. They are the ones who gave us the faith, they passed the faith on to us.’

Pope Francis spoke these words at the Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, USA, on 26 September 2015.

Just a year before that the Pope addressed a gathering of elderly people and grandparents in St Peter’s Square. He welcomed two brothers from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq which ISIS had taken over on 6 August 2014 and all the city’s people had fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Pope said , ‘These brothers testify to us that even in the most difficult of trials, the elderly who have the faith are like trees that continue to bear fruit.’

Speaking in a more general sense Pope Francis said, ‘Grandparents, who have received the blessing to see their children’s children (cf. Ps 128: 6), are entrusted with a great responsibility: to transmit their life experience, their family history, the history of a community, of a people; to share wisdom with simplicity, and the faith itself — the most precious heritage!’

The Bishop of Rome finished his talk with a very tender but powerful image: ‘One of the most beautiful aspects of family life, of our human life as a family, is caressing a baby and being caressed by a grandfather and a grandmother.’ The catechist in Natanuku, Fiji, in the photo above exemplifies those words.

He is not an old man but he is a grandfather. He is standing outside the family home destroyed by Cyclone Winston on 20 February, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, with the same strength as Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda that hit the Philippines on 8 November 2014 and described by Columban Fr Frank Hoare in A Killer Cyclone in this issue. The calm hope in his face along with his strength and tenderness – two qualities that go together – as he holds his grandchild protectively are symbols of the Resurrection, which we celebrate this year on 27 March.

Each year at the Easter Vigil we listen to the story of the Exodus, how God led the Hebrew people under the leadership of Moses from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land of Israel. In Jewish families this same passage is read during the Passover Seder, the special family meal, and the youngest child present asks, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ This is one of the ways in which Jewish families pass on their faith to their children.

We too pass on our Christian faith and our own personal, family and community history that is entwined with it. The catechist in Natanuku will continue to teach our Catholic Christian faith to the people in his community and will tell his grandchild about Cyclone Winston, of which the infant will have no personal memory. In conveying that story, which the child will hear from many others also, he will share how the deep faith of the Fijian people enabled them to experience the presence of the Risen Lord in the aftermath of Winston, just as the deep faith of the Filipino people enabled them to experience his presence in the aftermath of Haiyan/Yolanda.

Truly, He is risen, as he said. Alleluia!