Francis' Message on Church's Concept of Family

«The future of society, and concretely of Italian society, is rooted in the elderly and in young people»

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Here is a translation of Francis’ message to participants in the 47th Social Week for Italian Catholics, which will be held Sept. 12 – 15 in Turin, on the theme: “The Family: Hope and Future for Italian Society”.

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To the Venerable Brother


President of the Italian Episcopal Conference

I address my cordial greeting to you and to all the participants in the 47th Social Week of Italian Catholics, being held at Turin. I renew my fraternal embrace to the Bishops present, in particular, to the Pastor of that Church, Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia, as well as to Archbishop Arrigo Miglio and to the members of the Scientific and Organizing Committee. I greet all the representatives of the dioceses of Italy and of the different ecclesial groups. 

The tradition of the Social Weeks in Italy began in 1907, and among its principal promoters was Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo. This 47thWeek is the first held after his beatification, which took place on April 28, 2012, and was justly entrusted in a particular way to his intercession. The figure of Blessed Toniolo is part of that luminous array of lay Catholics that, despite the difficulties of their time, wished and were able with God’s help to follow useful ways to work in the quest and construction of the common good. In their life and thought they practiced what Vatican Council II taught later in regard to the vocation and mission of the laity (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 31); and their example is an always valid encouragement for lay Catholics today to seek, in turn, effective ways for the same end, in the light of the most recent teaching of the Church (cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Deus caritas est, 28). The exemplary force of holiness in the social field is rendered in this case even more notable by the venue of this 47th Social Week. Turin, in fact, is an emblematic city for the whole historical-social journey of Italy, and it is so in a particular way by the presence of the Church in this journey. In the 19th and 20th centuries, numerous men and women, priests, men and women religious, laymen, some of them Saints and Blesseds, witnessed with their life and worked effectively in endeavors at the service of young people, families and the poorest. 

In the different historical periods, the Social Weeks of Italian Catholics were providential and valuable, and they are still so today. In fact, they are proposed as high profile cultural and ecclesial initiatives, able to address and if possible anticipate the questions and challenges, at times radical, posed by the present evolution of the society. Because of this, the Church in Italy, some 25 years on or so, has wished to take them up again and re-launch them, as qualifying moments of listening and research, of comparison and further reflection, very important be it for the ecclesial community itself, for its service of evangelization and human promotion, be it for scholars and workers in the cultural and social field (cf. CEI’s Pastoral Note of November 20, 1988). Thus the Social Weeks are a privileged instrument through which the Church in Italy makes its own contribution to the quest for the country’s common good (cf. Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 26). This task, which is of the whole community in its different articulations, belongs, as we already recalled, specifically to the laity and to their responsibility. 

The theme of this Social Week is “The Family, Hope and Future of Italian Society.” I express all my appreciation for this choice, and for having associated to the family the idea of hope and future. It is indeed so! However, for the Christian community the family is much more than a “theme”: it is life, daily fabric, and the path of generations that transmit the faith to one another together with love and with fundamental moral values; it is concrete solidarity, effort, patience and also project, hope, future. All this, which the Christian community lives in the light of faith, of hope and of charity, is never held for oneself, but becomes every day leaven in the dough of the whole society, for its greater common good (cf. Ibid., 47).

Hope and future presuppose memory. The memory of our elderly people is the support to go forward on the way. The future of society, and concretely of Italian society, is rooted in the elderly and in young people: the latter because they have the strength and age to carry the history forward, the former, because they are the living memory. A nation that does not take care of the elderly, of children and of young people has no future, because it mistreats the memory and the promise. 

This 47thSocial Week is placed in this perspective, with the preparatory document that preceded it. It intends to offer a testimony and to propose a reflection, a discernment, free of prejudices, as open as possible, attentive to the human and social sciences. As Church we offer first of all a conception of the family which is that of the Book of Genesis, of the unity in difference between man and woman, and of fecundity. In this reality, moreover, we recognize a good for all, the first natural society, as accepted also in the Constitution of the Italian Republic. In fine, we wish to reaffirm that the family, understood thus, remains the first and principal subject builder of the society and of an economy to the measure of man, and as such merits to be actively supported. The consequences – positive and negative –, of the choices of a cultural character, first of all, and political regarding the family touch the different realms of the life of a society and a country: from the demographic problem – which is serious for the whole European continent and, in particular, for Italy, to the other questions regarding work and the economy in general, to the upbringing of children, to those that concern the anthropological view itself which is at the base of our civilization (cf. Benedict XVI, encyclical Caritas in veritate, 44).

These reflections do not just interest believers but all persons of good will, all those who have at heart the common good of the country, precisely as happens with the problems of environmental ecology, which can help very much to understand those of “human ecology” (cf. Id, Address to the Bundestag, Berlin, September 22, 2011). The family is the privileged school of generosity, of sharing, of responsibility; school that educates to overcome a certain individualistic mentality that has gained ground in our societies. To support and promote the family, valuing its fundamental and central role, is to work needed for a just and solidaristic development. 

We cannot ignore the suffering of so many families, due to lack of work, to the problem of housing, to the practical impossibility to act freely in their educational choices; suffering due also to internal conflicts in families themselves, to the failure of the conjugal and family experience, to the violence which unfortunately nests and causes damage within our homes. We want to be particularly close to all, with respect and with a true sense of fraternity and solidarity. However, above all we want to recall the simple but beautiful and courageous testimony of so many families, which live joyfully the experience of matrimony and parenthood, illumined and sustained by the Lord’s grace, without fear of facing also moments of the cross that, lived in union with that of the Lord, do not impede the way of love, but can even make it stronger and more complete. 

May this Social Week contribute effectively to make evident the bond that unites the common good to the promotion of the family founded on marriage, beyond prejudices and ideologies. It is a duty of hope that all have in addressing the country, particularly young people, who must be offered hope for the future. To you, dear Brother, and to the great assembly of the Social Week of Turin, I assure my remembrance in prayer a
nd, while asking that you pray also for me and for my service to the Church, I send from my heart the Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, September 11, 2013


[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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