The Pope's Call Across the Generations


The Pope's visit to America inspired hope. In his actions and his words, he called on all people to see beyond perceived boundaries and to care for one another.

"We must resolve to live as nobly & justly as possible," he said, "as we educate new generations not to turn our backs on our neighbors."

In his numerous speeches, he shined his light on neighbors of all cultures, races, ages and income levels including those who were new arrivals and others who had deep roots.

While some see this new reality of changing demographics and a growing racial generation gap as a challenge, it also presents unique opportunities for intergenerational solutions.

"Each son or daughter of a given country," the Pope said, "has a mission, a social responsibility."

What more important social responsibility than to commit to help re-build the American dream and assure every child has a strong beginning?

That strong beginning includes what the distinguished political scientist Robert Putnam calls an "airbag" or the protective parents and social networks that inflate when young people need protection and assistance.

Putnam made a compelling case in his recent best seller, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, for building "airbags" for young people who don't have them.

And who better to step up and build those airbags for the future than elders?

Throughout history, they have demonstrated the "grandparent advantage" of passing on wisdom, knowledge and roots.

As the Pope said, "Grandparents are the living memory of the family." They are the "storehouse of wisdom."

He noted that this wisdom was forged from the experience of older adults "who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land."

How do elders build up this land, our country?

By investing in the next generation.

If you believe, as the Pope proclaimed when speaking about young people ("their problems are our problems. We need to face them together, to talk about them and seek effective solutions"), then how do we-our country's elders-begin to answer the call to action?

We offer a few suggestions.

• You have a vote; don't be afraid to use it. Tell your elected officials our kids deserve a strong beginning.

• Persuade your peers to join you and become fearless elders for the next generation.

• Volunteer, even a few hours, to mentor, coach or tutor a child.

• Spend time on your front porch or common areas and befriend the children in your neighborhood and their families. 'Hello, have a good day Bobby' goes a long way in a young person's life.

• If you'd rather be behind the scenes, mow the grass, help with the books, paint walls or make toys for a local early education center.

Whatever your interest or skill, you can help as we answer the Pope's call to face problems together and seek effective solutions.

The Pope has left the building. He inspired hope. Now it's our turn to respond by acting on that hope.