DUBLIN — South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier told a Nigerian that, even if grandparents are fearful after the recent Pentecost massacre, their presence is a reassurance to younger generations to “Be not afraid.”
Speaking via Zoom to a Faith Café organized by the Catholic Grandparents Association June 14, the retired archbishop of Durban described as “evil” the June 5 massacre at St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Nigeria. At least 40 people died and more than 120 were injured.
Sir David E. Osunde, founder and national coordinator of the Holy Family Society of Nigeria, told meeting participants from Ireland, the U.K., United States, Australia, Canada and South Africa, “The church in Nigeria is in great pain.”
He said police stations had received letters demanding that, over the next three months, the Catholic Church in Nigeria should be shut down and that nobody should go to church.
“What do we do as grandparents when we are faced with this situation?” he asked and wondered how grandparents could ask their grandchildren to accompany them to church.
In his address to the Catholic Grandparents Association on the theme, “Strengthening the bridge of faith between the generations,” Napier recalled St. John Paul II’s response to situations was, “Be not afraid.”
“Even if we are afraid, we must give a presence that is reassuring to (the young). The more we can give them assurance that we are not afraid, then we can say those words, ‘Be not afraid,'” he told Osunde, who is based in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
But the cardinal also acknowledged that when evil takes such a violent form, the only way to respond is to “fall back on your faith and say: ‘Your will be done, Lord. If this how my life ends, so be it. But I’m going to remain faithful. I’m going to walk with you all the time.'”
In response to a question from Catholic News Service regarding Pope Francis’ catechesis on the meaning and value of old age and the pope’s concern over how the elderly are often portrayed as a burden, Cardinal Napier said the pope was challenging the “cancel culture.”
“We old people are not seen as useful; therefore, we can be canceled out,” the 81-year-old said.
“If we only look at old people as utilitarian units that are going to do something useful in the world, well, they are not going to contribute too much,” the cardinal warned.
However, the pope was telling the elderly that they have “an intrinsic value” and not to “believe the nonsense that you are not useful as a unit of production.” Napier lamented that usefulness appeared to be the standard for everything today.
Recalling catechesis at various World Youth Days in the past, Napier said many of the young people were surprised to learn that bishops go through moments of faith and vocation crises and that “we have to get up repeatedly from where we have fallen.”
He suggested that the challenges faced by a bishop could be easily applied to grandparents, and that the key to opening up any relationship between the generations is the wisdom of St. Augustine of Hippo, who summed up his own faith life with the words: “For you, I am a bishop, but with you, I am a Christian.”
He urged grandparents to admit to young people that they are still just Christians, “so the younger generation should not feel intimidated by us.”
Napier — who is currently acting as administrator of the Diocese of Eshowe, South Africa, a diocese that is “small in numbers but huge in area” — said he had noticed that, as administrator rather than as bishop, he wasn’t a threat to priests.
The former president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who has also participated in two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, added, “They know I’m not here to make a name for myself and, therefore, they don’t see me as competition,” so the attitude is “let’s move forward together.”