Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave Sunday evening when he opened the Ecclesial Congress of the Diocese of Rome, held in Saint Peter’s Square. The theme this year is: “’We Deliver to You What We Have Received’ (cf.1 Corinthians 15:3) — We Parents Witnesses of the Beauty of Life.”
The meeting began with the greeting of Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini and the prayer of invocation of the Holy Spirit.
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The forecasts yesterday, in the late evening, said rain for today, for this afternoon and this evening! Yes, it’s true, there is a rain of families in Saint Peter’s Square. Thank you!
It is good to meet you at the beginning of the pastoral congress of our Diocese of Rome. I thank you so much parents, for having accepted the invitation to take part in such numbers at this meeting, which is important for the journey of our ecclesial community.
As you know, for some years we have been reflecting on and asking ourselves how to transmit the faith to the new generations of the city that, even after some well noted events, is in need of a true and proper moral and spiritual rebirth. And this is a very intense task. Our city must be reborn morally and spiritually, because it seems that everything is the same, that everything is relative; that the Gospel is a lovely story of beautiful things, that it is good to read it, but it remains there, an idea. It does not touch the heart! Our city is in need of this rebirth. And this commitment is all the more important when we speak of the education of kids and young people, who begin to hear these strange ideas, these ideological colonizations that poison the soul and the family: one must act against this. Two weeks ago a person, a very Catholic, good, young man said to me that his kids were in first and second grade and that in the evening he and his wife so often had to “re-catechize” the children, the kids because of what they reported about some of the teachers in the school or because of what the books said that were given there — these ideological colonizations, that do so much harm and destroy a society, a country, a family. Therefore we are in need of a true and proper moral and spiritual rebirth.
In October we will hold a Synod on the Family, to help families to rediscover the beauty of their vocation and to be faithful to it. Jesus’ words are lived in the family: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (cf. John 15:13). With your conjugal relationship, exercising paternity and maternity, you give your life and are proof that it is possible to live the Gospel: it is possible to live the Gospel and it renders one happy. And this is the proof, but it is done in the family. This evening I would like to reflect with you on some simple words that express the mystery of your being parents. I don’t know if I will succeed in saying all that I wish to say, but at least I would like to speak of vocation, communion and mission.
The first word is vocation. Saint Paul wrote that all paternity stems from God (cf. Ephesians 3:15) and we can add all maternity. We are all children, but to become a father and mother is a call from God! It is a call from God; it is a vocation. God is eternal love, who gives himself incessantly and calls us into existence. However, it is a mystery that Providence wills to entrust in particular to man and woman, called to love one another totally and without reservations, cooperating with God in this life and transmitting life to their children. The Lord has chosen you to love one another and transmit life. These two things are the vocation of parents. This is a most beautiful call because it makes us be, in an altogether special way, in the image and likeness of God. To become a father and a mother truly means to be completely fulfilled, because it is to become similar to God. This is not said in the newspapers, it does not appear, but it is the truth of love. To become a father and a mother makes us much more similar to God.
As parents you are called to remind all the baptized that each one, although in different ways, is called to be a father or a mother. A priest, a Sister, a catechist is also called to spiritual paternity and maternity. In fact, a man and a woman choose to build a family because God calls them after having them experience the beauty of love. Not the beauty of passion, not the beauty, perhaps, of a passing enthusiasm but the beauty of love! And this should be discovered every day, every day. God calls men and women to be parents who believe in love, who believe in its beauty. I would like to ask you, but don’t answer, please: do you believe in the beauty of love? Do you believe in the grandeur of love? Do you have faith in this? Do you have faith? This is a daily faith. Love is good even when parents quarrel; it is good because in the end they make peace. It’s so good to make peace after a war! It’s so good. Conjugal love is a good, which not even the greatest difficulties of life are able to darken.
A child once said to me: “How lovely, my parents gave each other a kiss!” It’s lovely when the child sees that father and mother kiss one another – a beautiful testimony.
Dear parents, your children are in need of discovering, of seeing in your life that it is beautiful to love one another. Don’t ever forget that your children are always looking at you. Do you remember that film of some 20 years ago that was called “The Children are Looking at Us”? Children look. They look so much and when they see that father and mother love each other, the children grow in that atmosphere of love, of happiness and also of security, because they are not afraid: they know they are secure in the love of the father and of the mother. I allow myself to say an awful thing; we think how much children suffer when they see father and mother shout at one another, insult one another, and even hit one another every day. But, father and mother, when you fall into these sins, do you think that the first victims are in fact your children, your very own flesh? It’s awful to think of this, but it is a reality … Children look at us. They don’t only look at you when you are teaching them something. They look at you when you speak to each other, when you return from work, when you invite your friends, when you rest. They try to gather from your look, from your words, from your gestures, if you are happy to have become parents, if you are happy to be husband and wife, if you believe that goodness exists in the world. They scrutinize you — they don’t only look at you, they scrutinize you — to see if it’s possible to be good and if it’s true that with mutual love every difficulty is surmounted.
There is no greater witness for a child than to see his own parents love one another tenderly, respect one another, being kind to each other, forgiving one another; this fills children’s heart with true joy and happiness. Before dwelling in a house made of bricks, children dwell in another house, which is even more essential: they dwell in the mutual love of their parents. I ask you, every one answer in his/her heart: do your children dwell in your mutual love? Parents have the vocation to love one another. God has sowed in their heart the vocation to love, because God is love. And this is your vocation as parents: love. However, always think of the children, always think of the children!
The second word that comes to me, the second thought on which to reflect is communion. We know that God is communion in the diversity of the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. One’s being parents is founded in the diversity of being, as the Bible reminds, male and female. This is the “first” and most fundamental difference, constitutive of the human being. It is a richness. Differences are riches. There are so many people who are afraid of differences, but they are riches. And this difference is the “first” and fundamental difference, constitutive of the human being. When engaged couples come to be married, I like to say to him, after speaking of the Gospel: “But don’t forget that your vocation is to render your wife more woman!”; and I say to her: “your vocation is to render your husband more man!” And thus they love one another, but they love one another in the differences, more man and more woman. And this is the craftsmanship of marriage, of the family, every day; to make the other grow, to think of the other: the husband of the wife and the wife of the husband. This is communion.
I tell you that often couples come to Mass at Saint Martha’s who are observing their 50th, sometimes 60thwedding anniversary. And they are happy; they smile. More than once I have seen the husband caress his wife. After 50 years! I ask the question: “Who has endured whom?” And they always answer: “But both of us.” Love leads us to this, to have patience. And in these old marriages, which are like the good wine that becomes better when it is older, one sees this daily work of man to make his wife more a woman and the wife to make her husband more a man. They are not afraid of the differences! This challenge of carrying differences forward, this challenge enriches them, matures them, makes them great and they have eyes brilliant with joy, of so many years lived thus in love — what great richness is this diversity, a diversity that becomes complementarity but also reciprocity. There is a knot there, one with the other. And this reciprocity and complementarity in difference is so important for the children. Children mature seeing father and mother like this; they mature their own identity in confronting the love that father and mother have, in being confronted with this difference. We men learn to recognize, through the feminine figures we meet in life, the extraordinary beauty of which woman is the bearer. And women follow a similar course, learning from masculine figures that man is different and has his way of feeling, of understanding and of living. And this communion in diversity is also very important for the education of the children, because mothers have a greater sensibility for some aspects of their life, while fathers have it for others. This educational intention is beautiful, which puts at the service of the children’s growth the different talents of the parents. It is an important quality to cultivate and to protect.
It is very painful when a family lives a tension that can’t be resolved, a break that they don’t succeed in healing. It is painful. When there are the first signs of this, a father and a mother have the duty to themselves and to their children to ask for help, to be supported. Ask help first of all from God. Remember Jesus’ account, you know it well: it is that Father who is able to take the first step towards his two sons, one who left home and spent everything, the other who remained at home … The Lord will give you the strength to understand that evil can be surmounted, that unity is greater than conflict, that the wounds we have inflicted in one another can be healed, in the name of a greater love, of that Love that He has called you to live with the Sacrament of Marriage.
And also now, when separation — we must also speak of this — seems inevitable, know that the Church carries you in her heart. And that your educational task is not interrupted: you are and always will be a father and mother, who cannot live together because of wounds, of problems. Please always seek understanding, collaboration, harmony for the good and happiness of your children. Please do not use your child as a hostage! Do not use your children as hostages! How much harm parents do who have separated, or at least are separated in their heart, when the father speaks badly of the mother to the son and the mother speaks badly to him of the father. This is terrible, because that child, that boy, that girl grows with a tension that he/she cannot resolve and learns the awful way of hypocrisy, to say what pleases each one to take advantage. This is a terrible evil! Never, never speak badly of the other to the children! Never! — because they are the first victims of this fight and — allow me the word — also of this so often hatred between the two. Children are sacred. Don’t wound them! “Look, father and mother don’t understand each other, it’s better that they separate.” “But do you know – the mother says – your father is a good man”; “Do you know – the father says – your mother is a good woman.” Keep the problems to yourselves, but don’t take them to your children.
However, there is also the way of forgiveness. Forgive one another and take up mutually your limitations, which will also help you to understand and accept the fragilities and weaknesses of your children. They are an occasion to love them more and make them grow. Only thus will they not be frightened in face of their own limitations, not be humiliated but go forward. A father and a mother that love one another know how to speak to a son or daughter who is on a difficult path; also how to speak without words. A director told me that his mother remained a widow and he was her only son; at 20 he was given to alcohol and his mother worked as a domestic; they were very poor; and when his mother went out to go to work, she saw him sleeping – but he wasn’t sleeping, he could see – and without saying a word, she would go. This look of his mother saved the son, because he said: “It can’t be that my mother goes to work and I live to get drunk!” Thus this man changed. A look, without words, can also save children. Children remember this.
And the gift of marriage, which is so beautiful, is also a mission. A mission that is very important.
You are collaborators of the Holy Spirit who whispers to you Jesus’ words! Be so also for your children! Be missionaries of your children. They will learn from your lips and from your life that to follow the Lord gives enthusiasm, the desire to spend oneself for others, it always gives hope, even in face of difficulties and sorrow, because one is never alone, but always with the Lord and with brothers. And this is important especially in the pre-adolescent age, when the search for God becomes more conscious and the questions call for well-founded answers.
And I don’t want to end without saying a word to grandparents, to our grandparents. Do you know that at Rome the elderly are 21.5% of the population? Grandparents are a quarter of the Roman population. There are 617,635 grandparents in this city. How many elderly people! Only one question: do grandparents have a place of dignity in the family? Now I’m sure that they do, because with the lack of work people go to grandparents for their pension. This yes, is done. But do grandparents, who are the wisdom of a people, who are the memory of a people, who are the wisdom of the family, have a worthy place? The grandparents who have saved the faith in so many countries where it was prohibited to practice religion and took children secretly to have them baptized, and grandparents who taught prayers. Today grandparents are in the family … grandparents are boring, they always talk about the same thing, let’s put them in a rest home… how often we think this way. I’m sure I’ve already told this story, a story that I heard as a child, in my home. It was said that in a family the grandfather lived, with his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren. But the grandfather had grown old, he had had apoplexy, he was old and when he was at table and ate, he soiled himself somewhat. The father was ashamed of his father, and said: “We can’t invite people to our home.” And he decided to make a small table in the kitchen, so that the grandfather could eat alone there. This is how it was. A few days later, he arrived home after work and found his son – 6-7 years old – who was playing with wood, with the hammer, with nails. “But what are you doing, boy?” “I am making a small table.” “And why?” – “Because when you are old you will be able to eat alone as grandfather eats!” Don’t be ashamed of the grandfather. Don’t be ashamed of the elderly. They give us wisdom, prudence, they help us so much. And when they get sick they ask us for so many sacrifices, it’s true. Sometimes there isn’t another solution than to take them to a rest home. But may it be the last, the last thing that is done. Grandparents at home are a richness.
Thank you so much for this. Remember: love, love, sow love. Remember what that child said: “Today I saw father and mother kiss each other!” How lovely![Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]