“To walk toward the future, the past is needed.”
That nugget of wisdom from Pope Francis describes in a sentence the mission behind Stories of a Generation, a four-part Netflix documentary series set for release on Christmas Day. The docuseries is based on the book Sharing the Wisdom of Time, first published by Loyola Press in 2018 in collaboration with the pope.
The docuseries will include interviews with men and women aged 70 and older from around the globe who were featured in the book. Their stories are told by young filmmakers under the age of 30 from the same countries as their subjects. There also will be commentary from Pope Francis.
The docuseries was produced by Simona Ercolani and her Rome-based Stand By Me production company in partnership with the multinational Asacha Media Group. Like the book, the docuseries is targeted to a broad audience.
“Of course, the Catholic element is there, but the themes are universal: Seniors have value and we need to love them, remember them, embrace them, and learn from them,” said a spokesman for the project.
The book is divided into five sections — Work, Struggle, Love, Death, Hope. Each has an introduction by Pope Francis with a story of his own, followed by brief stories from elders who share an experience or thought about that topic. In some cases, the pope responds directly to one of those stories. And every section includes an interview with a young person about “what I learned from the elder.”
The interviewees are from around the globe and every imaginable walk of life. Most are unfamiliar to readers, but a few are well known, such as filmmaker Martin Scorsese, chef Jacques Pepin, and Spanish soccer star Jesús Landáburu.
In the book’s introduction, Pope Francis describes how our modern culture has turned its back on one of its greatest resources for the future.
“Our society has silenced the voices of grandparents. We pushed them out of the way. We didn’t give them a chance to share their experiences, to tell their stories, and to speak about their lives. We put them aside, and so we have lost the treasure of their wisdom,” he says. “We want to avoid our own fear of weakness and vulnerability; but in doing so we increase the suffering of our older people who don’t feel our support and come to feel abandoned. Instead, we ought to reawaken a respectful sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality that can make the elders among us feel they truly belong to the community.”
The pope turns to the biblical example of Simeon and Anna who gave context to the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
“In fact, the lack of grandparents like Simeon and Anna who share their dreams hinders the younger generation’s ability to envision a future,” he says. “And so they end up stuck. Without the witness of their elder’s lives, the plans of young people will have neither roots nor wisdom. Today more than ever, the future generates anxiety, insecurity, mistrust and fear. Only the testimony of their elders will help young people look above the horizon and see the stars. Just learning that it was worth fighting for something will help young people face the future with hope.”
Pope Francis calls upon elders to join him in being “memory keepers” and members of a “choir” in “a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life.”
As for young people, “I ask them to listen to and bond with their elders. I ask them to not pull back into a quiet ‘desktop existence’ that hems them in with projects that have no hope and no heroism. I ask them to look up at the stars. I ask that they dream of a better world and let that dream inspire and energize them.”
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