Papal Visit Wrap-Up
During his apostolic visit to the United States (Sept. 22-27, 2015), Pope Francis said many beautiful things about the family. After all, the primary purpose of his visit was to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. As we Americans reflect on the blessings and lessons of our Holy Father’s memorable trip, here is a round-up of what the pope taught about marriage and family while in our country.
Wednesday, September 23: Washington, DC
In his remarks to President Barack Obama and the crowd gathered at the White House, Pope Francis reminded his listeners of a key reason for his visit, setting the stage for later reflections on the family:
“I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and family at this, a critical moment in the history of civilization.”F
During his meeting with the bishops of the United States, the Holy Father thanked them for their ongoing support of marriage and the family, noting again the centrality of the family to his journey:
“I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.”
The pope also again drew attention to the upcoming World Meeting of Families. After listing a number of dark signs of the modern world, including abortion, children who die from hunger, and the elderly, Pope Francis said:
“It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.”
Thursday, September 24: Washington, DC and New York, NY
In his speech to the United States Congress, the Holy Father spoke at length about the family, its importance, and the need for society to promote and protect it. Again he highlighted the World Meeting of Families, and expressed his wish “that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme.”
Pope Francis went on: “How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!”
At the same time, the pope noted his concern for the family, “which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.” He said that “fundamental relationships” are being questioned, as well as the “very basis” of marriage and the family. In response, he stressed, “I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
The pope went on to exhort special concern for young people, whom he called the “most vulnerable” members of the family. He shared his concern that many young people face violence, abuse and despair, and may not start a family “because they lack possibilities for the future” or because they are presented with too many options for their lives.
Friday, September 25: New York, NY
In his address to the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, Pope Francis stressed two points related to the family: first, that the family has the primary right to educate its children, a right that is particularly important in places where education is lacking, especially for girls; and second, that it is incumbent on governments to help their people have the spiritual and material means “needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family,” which the pope called “the primary cell of any social development.” Adding more detail, Pope Francis said that at a minimum, families need lodging, employment, and land to meet their material needs, and religious freedom and the right to education to meet their spiritual needs.
Saturday, September 26: Philadelphia, PA
In his homily to the bishops, clergy, and consecrated men and women from Pennsylvania gathered for Mass, Pope Francis stressed the call that each and every baptized man and woman has to serve the Lord and build up the Church. Toward the end of his remarks, the pope’s attention turned once again to the World Meeting of Families, and he encouraged the leaders in attendance “to reflect on our ministry to families, to couples preparing for marriage, and to our young people.” Acknowledging the good work already being done in the local Churches “to respond to the needs of families and to support them in their journey of faith,” the Holy Father asked his listeners to pray fervently for families, as well as for the upcoming Synod on the Family.
On Saturday evening, thousands of families from the local area and around the world gathered on the main street of Philadelphia to pray together, enjoy live music, hear testimonies from six families, and most of all listen to Pope Francis. While the Holy Father had prepared a text for the occasion, he decided to give unscripted remarks that were simultaneously translated from Spanish into English. Texts of both the prepared talk and the unscripted reflection can be found at the Vatican link above, and both merit close attention and study. It is also a pleasure to watch Pope Francis speaking off-the-cuff with passion and enthusiasm. (http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/26/us/pope-francis-festival-families/)
In his prepared remarks, Pope Francis used a beautiful image to express the vocation and mission of the family: “The family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him…to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless.”
The Holy Father went on to say that family life is not always easy: “Laying down one’s life out of love is not easy. As with the Master, ‘staking everything’ can sometimes involve the cross.” And later, he exhorted all present to help each other: “Let us help one another to make it possible to ‘stake everything on love.’ Let us help one another at times of difficulty and lighten each other’s burdens.”
In his unscripted remarks given at the Festival of Families, the pope spoke with enthusiasm and joy about the meaning of the family in God’s plan. With humor and candor, he returned to the theme that family life is not always easy: “In families sometimes we throw dishes. In families children cause headaches. … Families always, always have crosses.” But God’s grace is real: “the cross is followed by resurrection…So the family is – if you excuse the word – a workshop of hope, of the hope of life and resurrection, since God was the one who opened this path.”
As he has done before, Pope Francis stressed two members of the family who need special care, children and grandparents. He said that taking care of them “is a sign of love” and gives a people a future.
He ended his remarks with a heartfelt exhortation: “May God inspire you to keep moving forward. Let us care for the family. Let us defend the family, because there our future is at stake.”
Sunday, September 27: Philadelphia, PA
On his last day in the United States, the pope addressed the bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families, and spoke at length about the importance of the family. He said that for the Church, the family “is not first and foremost a cause for concern.” Instead, it is “the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation,” seen most beautifully in families who remain faithful despite many trials.
He encouraged the bishops to “decisively” recognize the gift of the family with gratitude and appreciation, and to be attentive to the myriad changes taking place in society regarding the family, on social, cultural, and legal levels. He criticized the common consumeristic approach to so many things in society: “Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming…Whatever the cost or consequences.” This mentality is deeply harmful to people and relationships.
The Holy Father encouraged the bishops to help families “correspond ever more fully to the blessing of God which they are!” and to invite young people “to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.” He said, “A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme!”
To conclude, the pope asked God for the “gift of a renewed closeness between the family and the Church. Families need it, the Church needs it, and we pastors need it.”
This Mass was the final public event during Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the United States. The parkway was filled with people from all over the world who came to pray and participate in the Mass with the Holy Father. Again the pope spoke about the family in great detail. He spoke about the holiness of “little gestures” learned in the family: “little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion…Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”
He strongly exhorted all families to live lives of communion, not division; love, not impatience. He asked everyone, “At home do we shout at one another or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way of measuring our love.”
In his closing remarks, he gave families clear direction on how to live out their mission and vocation: “May the Lord help us to be sharers in the prophecy of peace, of tenderness and affection in the family. May his word help us to share in the prophetic sign of watching over our children and our grandparents with tenderness, with patience and with love.”
The speeches, homilies and addresses of the Holy Father during his apostolic visit to the United States continues rich, deep reflections about marriage, the family, family life, and the family’s mission and vocation in the world. They merit close attention and study in order to receive their full fruits of wisdom and guidance. We in the United States have been given a wonderful gift by Pope Francis’ visit and the words he left with us will hopefully continue to take root in our country for years to come.