RIO DE JANEIRO – Pope Francis praised the elderly during the Catholic Church’s festival of youth Friday, saying grandparents are critical for passing on wisdom and religious heritage and are a “treasure to be preserved and strengthened.”

Francis has made a point of not just focusing on the next generation of Catholics during World Youth Day, but on the older generation as well. It’s part of his longstanding work caring for the elderly in Argentina, the crucial role his own grandmother played in his spiritual development and the gentle deference he shows his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Speaking from the balcony of the residence of Rio’s archbishop, Francis noted that Friday is celebrated as Grandparent’s Day in much of the world and that young people should take the occasion to honor and thank their grandparents for the wisdom they share.

“How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society!” he said.

Francis spoke about the important “bridge” between young and old in his brief remarks to journalists en route to Rio, saying young Catholics have the strength to bring the church forward while older Catholics have the “wisdom of life” to share that shouldn’t be discarded.

“This relationship and this dialogue between generations is treasure to be preserved and strengthened,” he said Friday.

Francis started off the day, his fifth in Rio, by hearing confessions from a half-dozen young pilgrims in a Rio park and met privately with a group of juvenile detainees, a priority of his ever since his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires and an expression of his belief that the church must reach out to the most marginalized and forgotten of society. Even now as pope, he calls a group of youths in a Buenos Aires detention center every two weeks just to keep in touch.

In the park, a white tent was set up to receive the faithful for confession, with small makeshift confessionals off to the side.

Five youths, chosen through a raffle, were selected for confession, a sacrament in which Catholics confess their sins and are forgiven.

The sun finally came out Friday, ending four days of rain that soaked pilgrims and forced the relocation of the festival’s culminating Mass on Sunday.