VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s address to members and consultors of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who are currently holding their 19th Plenary Assembly.
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Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of the 19th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, I am happy to receive you with my cordial welcome. This institutional moment sees your dicastery this year particularly renewed not only in the cardinal president and the bishop secretary, but also in some cardinals and bishops of the executive committee, in some officials and member spouses, as well as in numerous consultors. While I express my heartfelt thanks to all those who have concluded their service to the Pontifical Council and to those who even now offer it their valuable work, I invoke on all copious gifts of the Lord.
My gratitude goes in particular to deceased Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, who for 18 years led your dicastery with impassioned dedication to the cause of the family and of life in today’s world. Finally, I wish to manifest to Cardinal Ennio Antonelli expressions of heartfelt gratitude for the cordial words he addressed to me on behalf of all of you, and for having illustrated the topics of this important assembly.
The dicastery’s present activity is situated between the 6th World Meeting of Families, held in Mexico City in 2009, and the 7th, planned for Milan in 2010. While I renew my appreciation to Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera for the generous commitment shown by his archdiocese for the preparation and realization of the 2009 meeting, I express from now on my affectionate gratitude to the Ambrosian church and its pastor, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, for the willingness to host the 7th World Meeting of Families.
In addition to the preparation of these extraordinary events, the pontifical council is carrying forward initiatives to raise awareness of the fundamental value of the family for the life of the Church and of society. Among these are the project “The Family, Subject of Evangelization,” which intends to collect, at the world level, valid experiences in the various areas of family pastoral care, so that they will serve as inspiration and encouragement for new initiatives; and the project “The Family, Resource for Society,” which intends to make evident to public opinion the benefits that the family brings to society, to its cohesion and its development.
Another important task of the dicastery is the elaboration of a vademecum for marriage preparation. In the apostolic exhortation “Familaris Consortio,” my beloved predecessor, the Venerable John Paul II, said that this preparation is “more than ever necessary in our days” and “entails three principal moments: one remote, one proximate, and one immediate” (No. 66). Referring to these indications, the dicastery intends to delineate appropriately the physiognomy of the three stages of the itinerary for the formation of and response to the conjugal vocation.
The remote preparation refers to children, adolescents and youths. It involves the family, the parish and the school, the places in which they are educated to understand life as a vocation to love, which is specified, later, in the modalities of marriage and of virginity for the Kingdom of Heaven. In this stage, moreover, the meaning should emerge gradually of sexuality as capacity of relationship and positive energy to be integrated in authentic love.
Proximate preparation refers to those who are engaged, and should be configured as an itinerary of Christian faith and life, which leads to a profound knowledge of the mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the meaning of grace and of the responsibility of marriage (cf Ibid.). The duration and modalities of acting will necessarily be different according to the situations, the possibilities and the needs. However, it is hoped that a program will be offered of catechesis and of experiences lived the Christian community, which provides for the interventions of a priest and of various experts, as well as the presence of leaders, the support of an exemplary couple of Christian spouses, of couple and group dialogue and a climate of friendship and prayer.
It is appropriate, moreover, that special attention be given on this occasion for engaged couples to relive their own personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, especially by listening to the Word of God, approaching the sacraments and above all by participating in the Eucharist. Only by putting Christ in the center of personal existence and of that of the couple is it possible to live authentic love and to give it to others: “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing," Jesus reminds us (John 15:5).
The immediate preparation takes place in the proximity of marriage. In addition to the examination of the engaged couple, provided by Canon Law, the latter could include a catechesis on the Rite of Marriage and on its meaning, a spiritual retreat and preparation so that the celebration of marriage is perceived by the faithful, and particularly by those preparing for it, as a gift for the whole Church, a gift that contributes to its spiritual growth. Moreover, it is good that the bishops promote the exchange of the most significant experiences, that they offer stimuli for a serious pastoral commitment in this important sector, and show particular attention so that the vocation of the spouses becomes a richness for the whole Christian community and, especially in the present context, a missionary and prophetic testimony.
Your Plenary Assembly has as its theme “The Rights of Childhood,” chosen with reference to the 20th anniversary of the Convention approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. In the course of the centuries, the Church, following the example of Christ, has promoted the protection of the dignity and of the rights of minors and, in many ways, has protected them. Unfortunately, in some cases, some of its members, acting in contrast to this commitment, have violated these rights: a conduct that the Church does not cease and will not cease to deplore and condemn.
The tenderness and teaching of Jesus, who regarded children as a model to imitate to enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 18:1-6; 19:13-14), has always constituted a strong appeal to nourish profound respect and concern for them. Jesus’ harsh words against those who scandalize one of these little ones (cf. Mark 9:42) commit all to never lower the level of this respect and love. That is why the Convention on the Rights of Children was also received favorably by the Holy See, in as much as it contains positive principles on adoption, health care, education, the protection of the disabled and of little ones against violence, abandonment and sexual and labor exploitation.
In the preamble, the convention indicates the family as “the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members, especially children.” Certainly, it is precisely the family, founded on marriage between a man and a woman, which is the greatest help that can be given to children. They want to be loved by a mother and a father who love one another, and they need to dwell, grow and live together with both parents, because the maternal and paternal figure are complementary in the education of children and in the construction of their personality and their identity. Hence, it is important that everything possible is done to make them grow in a united and stable family.
To this end, it is necessary to exhort the spouses never to lose sight of the profound reasons and sacredness of the conjugal pact and to reinforce it with listening to the Word of God, prayer, constant dialogue, mutual acceptance and mutual forgiveness. A family environment that is not serene, the division of the couple and, in particular, separation with divorce do not fail to have consequences for the children, whereas supporting the family and promoting its good, its rights, its unity and stability, is the best way of protecting the rights and the genuine needs of minors.
Venerated and dear brothers, thank you for your visit! I am spiritually close to you and the work you carry out in favor of families, and I impart from my heart to each one of you and to all those who share this precious ecclesial service the Apostolic Blessing.