It is more important than ever to recognize the rights of the family in a global environment in which individual rights prevail, says Pope Francis.

The Holy Father emphasized this today in an address to participants in the 21st plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

In his three-point address, the Pope reiterated the importance of learning to respect human dignity, especially the dignity of children and the elderly.

He began by noting John Paul II's reference to the family as a community of persons, and not just the sum of the people who make it up.

The family "is the place where one learns to love, the natural center of human life. It is made up of faces, of persons who love, talk, sacrifice for others and defend life, especially the most fragile, the weakest," Francis said.

Calling the family the "engine of the world," he added that when one receives a Christian education in the family, he learns to recognize "the dignity of every individual person, particularly the sick, the weak and the marginalized."

"The family-community is all this, which calls for being recognized as such, so much more today, when the protection of individual rights prevails," he stated.

Marriage as foundation

Francis emphasized that family is founded on the sacrament of marriage, referring to matrimony as "a first sacrament of the human."

"Spousal and family love also reveals clearly the person’s vocation to love in a unique way and forever, and that the trials, the sacrifices, the crises of the couple as those of the family itself represent passages to grow in the good, in truth and in beauty," he said. "In matrimony one gives oneself completely without calculations or reservations, sharing everything, gifts and renunciations, trusting in the Providence of God."

Finally, Francis highlighted two "phases of family life": childhood and old age.

"Children and the elderly represent the two poles of life and also the most vulnerable, often the most forgotten," he said. "A society that abandons children and marginalizes the elderly cuts off its roots and darkens its future. Every time that a child is abandoned and an elderly person is marginalized, not only is an act of injustice committed but the failure of that society is confirmed. To take care of little ones and the elderly is a choice of civilization."

"The Church that takes care of children and the elderly becomes the Mother of the generations of believers and, at the same time, serves human society so that a spirit of love, of familiarity and of solidarity will help all to rediscover the paternity and maternity of God," Francis continued.

Truly Christian families

He said that the "good news" of the family is a key element in evangelization and that Christians participate in this proclamation by their witness to life.

"The truly Christian families are recognized by their fidelity, patience, openness to life, respect of the elderly … The secret of all this is Jesus’ presence in the family," Francis said. "Therefore, let us propose to all, with respect and courage, the beauty of matrimony and of the family illumined by the Gospel! And because of this, we come close with care and affection to families in difficulty, to those who are constrained to leave their land, who are broken, who have no home or work, or who are suffering for so many reasons; to spouses in crisis and to those now separated. We want to be close to them all."

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Pope's Homily During Episcopal Ordinations

Here is the translation of Pope Francis’ homily during the Episcopal ordination of Archbishop Jean-Marie Speich, the newly appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana and Archbishop Giampiero Gloder, newly appointed Apostolic Nuncio and President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.