VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2004 ( John Paul II warned Catholics, and pastors of the Church in particular, that failure to proclaim the truth about marriage and the family is a "grave omission."

Among the Church's priorities is "the promotion and defense of the institution of the family, today so attacked from different fronts with many and subtle arguments," the Pope said today when addressing a group of Colombian bishops. The bishops were concluding their five-yearly visit to Rome.

Regarding marriage, he told them that today "we witness a current, very widespread in some parts, which tends to weaken its true nature."

"It is necessary to continue to proclaim with firmness, as a real service to society, the truth on marriage and the family established by God," he said.

"To fail to do so would be a grave pastoral omission that would lead believers to error, as well as those who have the grave responsibility to make decisions on the common good of the nation," John Paul II continued.

"This truth is valid not only for Catholics, but for all men and women without distinction, as marriage and the family constitute an irreplaceable good of society, which cannot remain indifferent in face of its degradation or loss of identity," the Pope said.

In the light of these fundamental truths, the Holy Father offered elements for "family pastoral care" that responds to present emergencies.

First, he recommended that "it be carried out above all by couples who belong to movements or associations of matrimonial spirituality, and who are an example in the education of their children."

Second, the Holy Father requested that "young couples and families in difficulty be supported, as well as those preparing to get married, to discover the values of Christian marriage and to be faithful to the commitment made when receiving the sacrament."

Lastly, it "is important to teach them that, when engendering children, they will be guided by criteria of responsible parenthood, helping them, moreover, in their human and religious formation, learned in their own home in an atmosphere of serene coexistence and tenderness, as an expression of God's love for each one of his children," he concluded.