Here is a translation of the address Francis gave today to the participants in the 21st Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome you on the occasion of the 21stPlenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and I thank the president, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, for the words with which he introduced our meeting.
1. The first point on which I would like to pause is this: the family is a community of life which has its autonomous foundation. As Blessed John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, the family is not the sum of the persons that constitute it, but a “community of persons” (cf. Nos. 17-18).
It 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. It could be said, without exaggeration, that the family is the engine of the world and of history. Each one of us builds his/her own personality in the family, growing up with a mother and father, brothers and sisters, breathing the warmth of the home. The family is the place where we receive our name, the place of affections, the space of intimacy, where we learn the art of dialogue and interpersonal communication. In the family the person becomes conscious of his/her dignity and, especially if the education is Christian, recognizes 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. Because of this, you have acted well in paying particular attention to the Charter of Family Rights, presented in fact some 30 years ago, on October 22, 1983.
2. We come to the second point: the family is founded on matrimony. Through a free and faithful act of love, Christian spouses witness that matrimony, insofar as sacrament, is the basis on which the family is founded and renders more solid the union of the spouses and their mutual self-giving. Matrimony is as it were a first sacrament of the human, where the person discovers him/herself, understands him/herself in relations to others and in relation to the love that is capable of receiving and giving. 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. In matrimony one gives oneself completely without calculations or reservations, sharing everything, gifts and renunciations, trusting in the Providence of God. This is the experience that young people can learn from their parents and grandparents. It is an experience of faith in God and of mutual trust, of profound freedom, of holiness, because holiness implies giving oneself with fidelity and sacrifice every day of one’s life!
3. I would now like to make at least a reference to 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. 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.
I am happy that the Pontifical Council for the Family has devised a new icon of the family, which takes up the scene of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, with Mary and Joseph who bring the Child, to comply with the Law, and of the two elderly persons, Simeon and Anna who, moved by the Spirit, received him as the Savior. The title of the icon is significant: “His mercy is from generation to generation.” 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.
The “good news” of the family is a very important part of evangelization, which Christians can communicate to all, with the witness of life; and they are already doing so, this is evident in the secularized society: 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. 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.
Dear friends, may the works of your Plenarybe a precious contribution in view of the forthcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which will be dedicated to the family. I thank you also for this. I entrust you to the Holy Family of Nazareth and give you my heartfelt Blessing.[Translation by ZENIT]