Hardship and Hope

A sponsored elder, along with Pope Francis, testifies to the wisdom of age

June 30, 2022 | Be Informed

The two men were born eight years and nearly 4,000 miles apart. Jorge, the elder, grew up in Buenos Aires. Danilo was raised in Puriscal, a small town in northwest Costa Rica.

Jorge chose a path of academics and, eventually, the priesthood. Danilo became a farmer like his father. It was unlikely they would ever cross paths, but because a few years ago Jorge decided to devote a book to the wisdom of elders, and because during his lifetime Danilo had accrued such wisdom, the events that led to their interaction were set in motion.

Today, Jorge is better known as Pope Francis. Danilo is a sponsored elder in the Unbound program. The book that brought them together, “Sharing the Wisdom of Time" by Pope Francis and Friends, was published by Loyola Press in 2018.

from page to screen


In 2020, Netflix approached Unbound about helping with a documentary series based on the pope’s book. As with the earlier project, Unbound staff in the U.S. and abroad researched story leads. But where 23 Unbound sponsored elders were included in the book, Danilo was the only one chosen for the documentary.

The pandemic delayed production of the documentary, which was titled “Stories of a Generation – with Pope Francis” when it debuted in December 2021. During the delay, Hilda, Danilo’s partner of more than 50 years, passed away and Danilo’s own health deteriorated. When the filmmakers were finally able to spend the needed time with him, they met a man with both burdens and hopes.

Danilo, now 77, lives with his two adult sons, Abdelino and Uriel, who are both blind. Despite his own health struggles, which include chronic back pain and cataracts, caring for his sons is his main concern. He hoped to travel with them to the seaside.

“I would like to fulfill my children’s dream,” he said in the documentary. “I would like to take them to the beach because they’ve never seen the sea, so they can see it with their hands.”

One

Unbound staff member Carolina Cruz visits Danilo in his home in Costa Rica. She and other local staff members helped connect the documentary film crew with Danilo and were with him throughout the process.

Joy tinged with sadness 


Thoughts of the seaside also brought memories of Hilda, who, since her death, has never been far from Danilo’s mind.

“We used to go to the beach a lot, me and her,” he said. “We used to go out at night, to walk there on the beach. … It brings sadness because these are things that when one has lived with a person for a long time, … then the memories stay with one.”

Johanna Rizo, a social worker with Unbound in Costa Rica, was instrumental in helping the film crew connect with Danilo, and she looked out for his interests throughout the process.

“I always looked at his eyes [during filming],” she said. “They were always full of tears when he mentioned Doña Hilda. … I imagine that what he wanted at that moment was for Doña Hilda to be there so that she too could truly see the story of their lives.”

“We lived together for 57 years,” Danilo said in the film. “She was the one, the love of my heart.”

I would like to fulfill my children’s dream. I would like to take them to the beach because they’ve never seen the sea, so they can see it with their hands.

— Danilo, Unbound sponsored elder in Costa Rica

Life after the documentary 


Today, Danilo is unable to work but he receives support through his Unbound sponsorship. He and his sons also have family members living nearby who check in on them and bring them food.

Before the Netflix crew left, they brought Danilo to a local hospital where he had a surgical procedure on one eye. As of March, he was expecting to return for another procedure.

“I have faith in God that when I get out of this operation … that my eyesight will be fine, and that I will be able to move around better, to help [Abdelino and Uriel] in whatever way I can,” he said.

It was also in March that Danilo was finally able to see his part of the documentary. Because he lacks the ability to stream digital content, Unbound staff downloaded the program onto a hand-held device and brought it to his home. Ironically, he was one of the last in his community to watch it.

“[I am] very happy to know that maybe other people … are seeing it and have learned about our history,” he said. “We feel calm and happy that people are aware of it, and that they already know us.”

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Danilo, left, watches his segment of the documentary “Stories of a Generation – with Pope Francis” for the first time, on a device brought to him by local Unbound staff. His sons, from left, Abdelino and Uriel, who are blind, listened.

the need to dream


Pope Francis conceived of the original book project as a way to stimulate dialogue between young people and elders, a dialogue that once took place naturally in multigenerational households. He believes the young need to hear the stories and experiences of elders, but also that they have something precious to give elders in return.

“The elderly need to dream,” the pope said in the documentary. “If an older person does not dream, and does not move forward, they become hardened. That’s why they need to be encouraged to dream. And who can encourage them? Young people. That is why it is important for young people to approach the elderly.”

For his part, Danilo continues to dream and to live in gratitude, despite his difficulties. Like many of the elders in Unbound programs around the world, and many whose stories found their way to both the pope’s book and the Netflix series, his faith sustains him through the hard times.

“God is powerful, and you know that God does not fail anyone,” he said.


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