By Filipe Domingues
Resilience, like wisdom, is a quality that tends to increase with experience. A wise person can differentiate between matters that require immediate intervention and those that are not a priority. Wisdom can be gained either over many years of living and learning, or at the feet of our beloved and elderly friends or relatives. The same is true for growing in a spirit of resilience.
However, during this period of global pandemic, which has made the elderly more susceptible to illness and death and which has called on the young to commit to caring for the elderly in more ways than usual, resilience has become a quality that both can nurture — as they face generation-specific challenges brought on by the pandemic — by drawing from each other’s experience.
Generally, the elderly have had more numerous challenging life experiences that have helped them develop a rather robust “resilience muscle.” They have lived longer, made more mistakes, learned, witnessed the world change, and they changed and adapted as a result. They know more about life and, generally, have more spiritual tools and resources on hand.
Many young people, instead, have never been in a situation of such emotional and psychological distress, such as the one brought on by COVID-19, and they simply do not know how to react. While they have much more access to information than ever before, they lack opportunities to discern and flourish, exacerbated by economic and social inequalities. They are even deprived of the freedom of movement and of gathering within their cities. In a matter of months, their dreams and future projects, even if in a distant future, have come to seem unattainable.
At the same time, they have demonstrated great sacrifice and abundant resilience over these past months in their decisions to protect the elderly from the virus. Many children have stopped meeting up with friends. Many are staying home from school and learning from home. Many young adults have moved back in with their older parents and are working from home. Many young healthcare professionals have taken the risk — some at the cost of their own lives — to treat and cure the elderly who had COVID-19.
This is where the relationship and the exchange between generations comes in. For young people to become more resilient, they need to learn from their elders. But to do this, they must first overcome the “throw-away culture,” which Pope Francis says promotes “the relegation of the elderly to a sad and lonely existence” (“Fratelli Tutti,” no. 19).
The importance of developing more meaningful relationships with the elderly was one of the points that touched me most at the Synod of Bishops on Young People, (Oct. 3-28, 2018), which I was fortunate to attend two years ago.
At the synod, it was very clear that today’s young people do not accept ready-made answers, as they want to find the answers themselves. At the same time, they recognize that they cannot come up with these answers alone. They need guidance, they need role models.
As well, many young people recognize in Jesus Christ a model of a “good man,” but they have difficulty seeing him as the “Son of God” or as “God incarnate.” Tradition and faith, which are passed on from parents to children, through popular piety and in the testimonies of life, for instance, create a link between the generations. Thus, the greatest model of all, Christ, becomes visible through the elderly.
Young people want to walk together. They are willing to call members of previous generations to accountability where it is due, as in the environmental crisis, but they also want to assimilate as much as they can from their elders, who are willing to share their history, their setbacks, and their victories. However, they want to share their knowledge and experience with their elders, too, and this exchange is a benefit to the elderly as well.
In his latest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis writes: “We have seen what happened with the elderly in certain places in our world as a result of the coronavirus. They did not have to die that way. Yet something similar had long been occurring during heat waves and in other situations: older people found themselves cruelly abandoned. We fail to realize that, by isolating the elderly and leaving them in the care of others without the closeness and concern of family members, we disfigure and impoverish the family itself. We also end up depriving young people of a necessary connection to their roots and a wisdom that the young cannot achieve on their own” (“Fratelli Tutti,” no. 19).
As a Christian, I cannot help associating resilience with intergenerational solidarity. St. John Paul II’s famous definition of solidarity is applicable to the relationship between young and old. Solidarity “is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” (“Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,” n. 38).
Resilience grows through intergenerational solidarity. Nurturing resilience is a process, not just an objective. It develops in the ongoing exchanges among generations. It results from the intentional dialogue that takes place between the elderly and the young and the care and love that they show each other.
Instead of seeking novel ways to grow in resilience, I propose we care for the older or younger people in our lives and listen to how others have faced challenges, either worse or similar to those we must overcome today, with faith and courage. Through their witness, we will find concrete ways to be resilient.
Image: 'La Santa Communione' - icon written at the Monastery of Bose Icon Atelier. It depicts a young brother carrying his older brother.
Video: Pope Francis-Augustinianum- Intergenerational Conversation Oct. 23, 2018 Vatican News
Filipe Domingues is a Brazilian journalist, specialized in religion, economics, and the environment. A Lay Centre alumnus, he spent six years in Rome, where he obtained his licentiate and doctorate in social sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He studied young people and their relationship with social media. He also attended the Synod of Bishops on youth in 2018 as an expert in media ethics.
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