A global focus on the family

In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI announced plans to visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in 2015.

Jun 20, 2014

By Marcellino D’Ambrosio
In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI announced plans to visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in 2015. Given the unfolding of events following Pope Benedict’s historic resignation and the ascension of Pope Francis as pontiff, the World Meeting of Families took a backseat until recently, when speculation began that Pope Francis may attend.

During a May visit to Philadelphia, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia of the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Family, which organizes the event, strongly hinted that Pope Francis would attend the meeting, whose topic is of great importance to the church.

Since becoming the head of the church, Pope Francis has not often left Rome. The few times he has travelled reveal much about his priorities. He went to Brazil to focus on youth for World Youth Day and to the Holy Land for the sake of Christian unity.

Up until the 20th century, most official church teaching on family had to do with dogma such as the divinity of Christ. But over that past 100 years, pastoral teaching about the nature and purpose of the Christian family has been increasingly emphasized.

The Second Vatican Council devoted much attention to the family. In 1979, the world Synod of Bishops made the family its main focus. In 1981, St John Paul II wrote Familiaris Consortio, which can be considered a Catholic manifesto on the family. St John Paul also established an international conference on the family, such as the one in Philadelphia, every three years.

The secular media tend to focus on all the things the Catholic Church is against when it comes to the family: divorce, contraception, abortion, gay marriage, to name a few.

But Pope Francis’ style is to focus positively on what the church is for when it comes to family life. He will likely use the occasion in Philadelphia to draw attention to the noble beauty of Christian family life and its power to promote human dignity and happiness.

Sounding many themes of Vatican II and of his predecessors, he will most likely emphasize topics such as marriage and fulfillment, learning to serve each other and the children with which God may choose to bless a family. The paschal mystery is played out in the daily drama of family life in which only sacrifice leads to glory.

He may also mention the “domestic church,” as Vatican II called the family. A Christian family does not just go to church, but is the church. In the domestic church, parents have a role similar to the role of a pastor of a parish.

Of course the family must participate in the sacramental, social and apostolic life of the parish, but faith, prayer, catechesis, charity and evangelization all must take place first and foremost in the context of the home.

Catechetical programmes that take place at parishes and Catholic schools are incredibly important, but Vatican II made a bold statement: Parents are the primary religious educators of their children.

This must be the case since faith is like a language. It is impossible to master by attending classes once or twice a week. It is more caught than taught. It is a tradition handed from one generation to another, but one that the new generation must live in and pick up.

The family is the first and best opportunity for this to take place. When it comes to more explicit learning, children are most teachable at the moment when they are curious and they have a question.

These questions most often don’t occur at the moment of a religious education class, but often in the car on the way home from a friend's house. If parents aren’t ready to supply an answer, the child may conclude that there is no good answer. Parents need to be constantly growing in their faith so that they are able to fulfill their mission as religious educators.

Another theme we may hear is the family and evangelization. Over the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about the new evangelization. The family is not only the locus of the primary evangelization of children, but the Christian family is, according to some of the early church fathers, an icon of the Trinity.

In the love that exists in a healthy Christian family, others who visit should be able to see the face of God. A Christian home should be an oasis of refreshment for guests who are weary of the increasing fragmentation and radical individualism of our modern culture.

Those who love God and love one another, who share meals together and listen and speak to one another, and do so joyfully, is an attractive signpost that points to Jesus Christ and his church.

Papal trips are never a sure thing until they are officially announced, usually a few months before they take place. But it’s quite likely that Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia in 2015, and his words as well as his presence will speak volumes about family, not just to Catholics but to the world.”

Total Comments:0