Pope's General Audience Address: On Mother Church and Motherhood

“Every human person owes his life to a mother, and almost always owes her much of his subsequent existence, his human and spiritual formation.”

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Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address at the weekly general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall this morning:

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today, we continue with the catechesis on the Church and we will reflect on Mother Church. The Church is Mother, our Holy Mother Church.

In these days, the liturgy of the Church has placed before our eyes the icon of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The first day of the year is the feast of the Mother of God, which is followed by the Epiphany, recalling the visit of the Magi. The evangelist Matthew writes: “and going into the house they saw the child with Mary, his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11). It is the Mother who, after having generated him, presents the Son to the world. She gives us Jesus, she shows us Jesus, she makes us see Jesus.

We continue with the catechesis on the family and, in the family, is the mother. Every human person owes his life to a mother, and almost always owes her much of his subsequent existence, his human and spiritual formation. A mother, however, though being much exalted from the symbolic point of view – so many poems, so many beautiful things that are said poetically about a mother – is little listened to and little helped in daily life, little considered in her central role in society. In fact, often advantage is taken of mothers’ willingness to sacrifice themselves for their children to “save” social expenses.

It also happens in the Christian community that the mother is not regarded justly, that she is little listened to. Yet, at the center of the life of the Church is the Mother of Jesus. Perhaps mothers, ready for so many sacrifices for their children — and not rarely also for those of others — should be more listened to. It is necessary to understand more their daily struggle to be efficient in their work and attentive and affectionate in the family; it is necessary to understand better what they aspire to express, the best and most authentic fruits of their emancipation. A mother always has problems with her children, always has work. I remember at home – we were five children – and while one did one thing, another thought of doing another, and our poor mother went from one to the other, but she was happy. She gave us so much.

Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of egotistical individualism. “Individual” means “that it cannot be divided.” Mothers, instead, “divide themselves,” from the moment they host a child to give him to the world and make him grow. It is they, the mothers, who in the main hate wars that kill their sons. I have thought so many times of those mothers who receive the letter: “I tell you that your son fell in defense of the fatherland …” Poor women! How mothers suffer! They are the ones who witness to the beauty of life.

Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero said that mothers live a “maternal martyrdom.” In the homily of the funeral of a priest killed by death squads, he said, echoing Vatican Council II: “We must all be ready to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor … to give one’s life does not only mean to be killed; to give one’s life, to have the spirit of martyrdom, is to give in duty, in silence, in prayer, in the honest fulfillment of one’s duty; in the silence of daily life; to give one’s life little by little. Yes, as a mother gives it who, without fear, with the simplicity of maternal martyrdom, conceives a child in her womb, brings him to life, nurses him, helps him grow and attends to him with affection. It is to give one’s life. It is martyrdom.” The quotation ends there. Yes, to be a mother does not mean only to bring a child into the world, but it is also a choice of life. What does a mother choose, what is a mother’s choice of life? A mother’s choice of life is the choice to give life, and this is great, this is beautiful.

A society without mothers would be an inhuman society, because mothers are always able to witness, even in the worst moments, tenderness, dedication, moral strength. Mothers also often transmit the profoundest meaning of religious practice. The value of the faith is inscribed in the life of a human being in the first prayers, in the first gestures of devotion that a child learns. It is a message that believing mothers are able to transmit without explanations: these will come later, but the seed of the faith is in those first, most precious moments — and the Church is Mother, with all this, she is our Mother! We are not orphans; we have a Mother! Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, is our Mother. We are not orphans; we are children of the Church, we are children of Our Lady, and we are children of our mothers.

Dearest mothers, thank you; thank you for what you are in the family and for what you give to the Church and to the world. And to you, beloved Church, thank you, thank you for being Mother. And to you, Mary, Mother of God, thank you for having us see Jesus. And thank you to all the mothers here present: we greet them with applause!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

Summary of the Catechesis and Greeting in English


Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the family, and inspired by the Christmas image of Our Lady who presents her Son to the world, we now reflect on the role of mothers in society and in the Church. For all our symbolic glorification of mothers, their important contribution to the life of society, their daily sacrifices and their aspirations are not always properly appreciated. Mothers are an antidote to the spread of a certain self-centeredness, a decline in openness, generosity and concern for others. In this sense, motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice, entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society. Archbishop Oscar Romero spoke in this regard of a “martyrdom of mothers”, whose sensitivity to all that threatens human life and welfare is a source of enrichment for society and the Church. Today I ask you to join me in thanking mothers everywhere for what they are, and for all that they give to the Church and to our world.


I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including the various groups from Ireland, Finland, Indonesia, Australia and the United States of America. In the joy of this Christmas season, I invoke upon you and your families grace and peace in the Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, our Mother. God bless you all!

[Original text: English]

Greeting in Italian

First of all, I would like to thank the circus persons who have come here. We think: “Let’s go to the circus, let’s have some fun …” Yes, this is true, the circus is a show and we have a good time there. We also see men and women who do strange things, who are good in equilibrium. Yes, this is true; we have seen it. See them there, let’s greet them all! However, it teaches us something more. The people who do the show in the circus create beauty; they are creators of beauty! It’s true, our life is very practical, we do things, further our work – this must be done; to do, the language of the hands, to do. However, our life is also thinking, reason. And this is important because we are animals that think. To think, the language of the mind, is important. We are also persons that love, who have this capacity to love: the language of the heart. To think is the language of the mind; to love is the language of the heart; to do is the language of the hands. And all these three languages unite to make the harmony of the person. And there is beauty there. And these persons, who today made this show, are creators of harmony, creators of beauty, who teach the higher way of beauty. God is certainly true, Go
d is certainly good, God is certainly able to do things; He has created the world but, above all, God is beautiful! – the beauty of God. So often we forget beauty! Humanity thinks, feels, does but today it has great need of beauty. Let’s not forget this and thank these good people in their doing, good in equilibrium, in the show but especially good in creating beauty. Thank you all so much.

To all the Italian-speaking pilgrims present at this first General Audience of 2015, I express the cordial wish of hope and peace for the New Year. I greet the Merciful Sisters and the Ursulines of the Holy Family, gathered here on the occasion of their respective General Chapters, and I exhort them to transmit the joy of faithful correspondence to the divine call with the witness of their life. I greet you, members of the Golden Circus of Liana Orfei, and I encourage you to be not only bearers of a smile and messengers of solidarity among peoples and nations, but especially creators of beauty, of which we are in need!

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. I call newlyweds the courageous because today one needs courage to get married! They are good. After the Solemnity of Epiphany, we also continue to look at that star that the Magi followed. Dear young people, be enthusiastic witnesses of the light of Christ among your contemporaries; dear sick, draw from this light courage in pain; and you, dear newlyweds, be a sign of the luminous presence of God with your faithful love.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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