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Pope Francis receives flowers at his arrival at the International Airport of Santiago de Cuba

PHOTO.VA - OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Pope’s Address to Families in Cuba

“Amid all the difficulties troubling our families of the world today, please, never forget one thing: families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity. An opportunity which we have to care for, protect and support”

Here is a Vatican translation of the address Pope Francis gave this morning in his meeting with families. The Holy Father largely followed his prepared text, but ZENIT has transcribed and translated the various remarks he added off-the-cuff. Those are found in brackets.

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We are here as a family! And whenever we come together as a family, we feel at home. Thank you, Cuban families. Thank you, Cubans, for making me feel part of a family, for making me feel at home, in these days. [Thank you.] This meeting is like “the cherry on the cake”. To conclude my visit with this family gathering is a reason to thank God for the “warmth” spread by people who know how to welcome and accept someone, to make him feel at home. Thank you [to all the Cuban people!]

I am grateful to Archbishop Dionisio García of Santiago for his greetings in the name of all present, and to the married couple who were not afraid to share with all of us their hopes and struggles in trying to make their home a “domestic church”. 

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus worked his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, at a family party. There he was, with Mary, his Mother, and some of his disciples, taking part in a family celebration. 

Weddings are special times in many people’s lives. For the “older folks”, parents and grandparents, it is an opportunity to reap the fruits of what they have sown. Our hearts rejoice when we see children grow up and make a home of their own. For a moment, we see that everything we worked for was worth the effort. To raise children, to support and encourage them, to help them want to make a life for themselves and form a family: this is a great challenge for all parents. Weddings, too, show us the joy of young spouses. The future is open before them, and everything “smacks” of new possibilities, of hope. Weddings always bring together the past which we inherit and the future in which we put our hope. [There is memory and hope.] They are an opportunity to be grateful for everything which has brought us to this day, with the same love which we have received. 

Jesus begins his public life, [in fact,] at a wedding. He enters into that history of sowing and reaping, of dreams and quests, of efforts and commitments, of hard work which tills the land so that it can yield fruit. Jesus began his life [precisely] within a family, within a home. And he continues to enter into, and become a part of, our homes. [He likes to place himself within the family.]

It is interesting to see how Jesus also shows up at meals, at dinners. Eating with different people, visiting different homes, was a special way for him to make known God’s plan. He goes to the home of his friends, Martha and Mary, but he is not choosy; it makes no difference to him if they are publicans or sinners, like Zacchaeus. He didn’t just act this way himself; when he sent his disciples out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God he told them: Stay in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide (Lk 10:7). Weddings, visits to people’s homes, dinners: those moments in people’s lives become “special” because Jesus chose to be part of them. 

I remember in my former diocese how many families told me that almost the only time they came together was at dinner, in the evening after work, when the children had finished their homework. These were special times in the life of the family. They talked about what happened that day and what each of them had done; they tidied the house, put things away and organized their chores for the next few days. [The kids fought, but it was the moment.] These were also times when someone might come home tired, or when arguments or bickering might break out [between the husband and wife. But there’s no reason to be afraid of this. I am more afraid of the couples who’ve never, ever had a fight. That’s odd.] Jesus chooses all those times to show us the love of God. He chooses those moments to enter into our hearts and to help us to discover the Spirit of life at work in our daily affairs. It is in the home that we learn fraternity, [that we learn] solidarity, [that we learn] not to be overbearing. It is in the home that we learn to receive, to appreciate life as a blessing and to realize that we need one another to move forward. It is in the home that we experience forgiveness, that we are continually asked to forgive and to grow. [It’s interesting,] in the home there is no room for “putting on masks”: we are who we are, and in one way or another we are called to do our best for others. 

That is why the Christian community calls families “domestic churches”. It is in the warmth of the home that faith fills every corner, lights up every space, builds community. At those moments, people learn to discover God’s love present and at work. 

In many cultures today, these spaces are shrinking, these experiences of family are disappearing, and everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart. We have fewer moments in common, to stay together, to stay at home as a family. As a result, we don’t know how to be patient, we don’t know how to ask permission or [we don’t know how to ask] forgiveness, or even [we don’t know how] to say “thank you”, because our homes are growing empty. [Not empty of people.] Empty of relationships, empty of contacts, empty of encounters. [Of parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings.] Not long ago, someone who works with me told me that his wife and children had gone off on vacation, while he remained home alone [because he had to work]. The first day, the house is completely quiet, “at peace”, [he was happy] and nothing was out of place. On the third day, when I asked him how things were going, he told me: I wish they would all come back soon, [return home]. He felt he couldn’t live without his wife and children. [And this is beautiful.]

Without family, without the warmth of home, life grows empty, there is a weakening of the networks which sustain us in adversity, nurture us in daily living and motivate us to build a better future. The family saves us from two present-day phenomena, [two things that happen]: fragmentation (division) and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. [And then we find in the world] societies which are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds, the loss of those relationships which make us who we are, which teach us to be persons. [One forgets how to say dad, mom, son, daughter, grandpa, grandma. They go along as if forgetting these relationships, which are the foundation.]

The family is a school of humanity, [a school] which teaches us to open our hearts to others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. [When we live well as a family, egotism grows small. It exists, because all of us are a little egotistical. But when one doesn’t live family life, these personalities start taking shape that we could refer to like this: I, mine, me, with me, for me — totally centered in oneself, unaware of solidarity, fraternity, teamwork, love, arguments among siblings — they don’t know of this.]

Amid all the difficulties troubling our families [of the world] today, please, never forget one thing: families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity. An opportunity which we have to care for, protect and support. [That is a way of saying that they are a blessing. When you begin to live as if the family is a problem, you get stuck, you don’t go forward. You are very centered in yourself.]

We talk a lot about the future, about the kind of world we want to leave to our children, the kind of society we want for them. I believe that one possible answer lies in looking at yourselves: [this family that I spoke of to each one of you.] Let us leave behind a world with families. [This is the best inheritance. Let us leave behind a world with families.] No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children — [and if I can dare to say it, there is no perfect mother-in-law] — but this does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. [Love always engages with the persons it loves.] So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for families, true centers of humanity. 

[And here, an image comes to me. During the Wednesday audiences, when I pass by to greet the people, so many women gesture to their belly and tell me, “Father will you bless him or her?” I am going to suggest something: All you women who are pregnant with hope — because a child is hope — in this moment, place your hand on your belly. If there are pregnant women here, you do it, and those who are listening through radio or television. And to each of these women, to each boy or girl who is there inside waiting, I give my blessing. So each one, touch your belly, and I give you the blessing, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And I hope that he or she arrives healthy, that he or she grows up well, that you can raise him or her. Give a caress to the child that you are awaiting.]

I do not want to end without mentioning the Eucharist. All of you know very well that Jesus chose a meal to the setting for his memorial. He chose a specific moment of family life as the “place” of his presence among us. A moment which we have all experienced, a moment we all understand: a meal. 

The Eucharist is the meal of Jesus’ family, which the world over gathers to hear his word and to be fed by his body. Jesus is the Bread of Life for our families. He wants to be ever present, nourishing us by his love, sustaining us in faith, helping us to walk in hope, so that in every situation we can experience the true Bread of Heaven. 

In a few days I will join families from across the globe in the World Meeting of Families and, in less than a month, in the Synod of Bishops devoted to the family. I ask you to pray in a particular way for these two events, so that together we can find ways to help one another and to care for the family, so that we can continue to discover Emmanuel, the God who dwells in the midst of his people, and makes his home in [each family and in every family. I count on your prayers.] [Original text: Spanish] [Translation is provided by the Vatican; ZENIT has added a transcription and translation of off-the-cuff additions to the text in brackets]]

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