Pope Urges Parishes to Support Families
Collaboration between the church and the family is especially “necessary,” given the daunting challenges parents encounter today when it comes to raising children, Pope Benedict XVI said Jan. 9 when he baptized 21 infants in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. He urged parishes to “do their utmost” to sustain families in their role of passing on the faith.
Pope Benedict has spoken a number of times in recent weeks about the invaluable educational roles the family fulfills, as well as about the kinds of religious and social support married couples and their families need. He has been suggesting that if families not only are to fulfill their mandate, but to survive and thrive under difficult circumstances, they require support both from the church and from society.
In his Sistine Chapel homily, he said that “collaboration between the Christian community and the family is especially necessary in the contemporary social context in which the family institution is threatened on many sides and finds itself having to face numerous difficulties in its role of raising children in the faith.”
The pope commented that a “lack of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation to which society constantly is subjected” combine to make the task of raising children “arduous.”
But he believes that the vital religious educational role parents can fulfill in their children’s lives needs to be recognized and supported. “A journey begins” for children with baptism, he said. Later, of course, they will need to make a “free and conscious” commitment to a life of “faith and love.” For that reason, “after baptism they must be educated in the faith.”
The church, together with their parents and godparents, must “accompany them on this journey of growth,” the pope said.
The church’s collaboration with parents and families also was addressed by Pope Benedict in a major document titled “The Word of the Lord,” an apostolic exhortation made public Nov. 11, 2010. “Part of authentic parenthood is to pass on and bear witness to the meaning of life in Christ: Through their fidelity and the unity of family life, spouses are the first to proclaim God’s word to their children,” the pope said.
He added that the church should “support and assist” families “in fostering family prayer, attentive hearing of the word of God and knowledge of the Bible.” Help for families in such matters “can be provided by priests, deacons and a well-prepared laity,” Pope Benedict said.
In his message for the Jan. 1, 2011, World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict called attention to the far-reaching, positive effects of the religious educational efforts that begin in homes. He suggested that the world’s nations need to acknowledge that “parents must be always free to transmit to their children, responsibly and without constraints, their heritage of faith, values and culture.”
Religious education is “the highway that leads new generations to see others as their brothers and sisters with whom they are called to journey and work together so that all will feel that they are living members of the one human family from which no one is to be excluded,” the pope said in his peace day message.
The family “remains the primary training ground for harmonious relations at every level of coexistence — human, national and international,” he explained. Thus, “wisdom suggests that this is the road to building a strong and fraternal social fabric.”
The public-policy support parents and families need was very much on Pope Benedict’s mind Jan. 14 when he addressed public officials of Rome and Italy’s Lazio region. The family must be supported by public policies that address not only immediate problems, but that “aim to consolidate and develop the family,” he said.
For, he commented, “it is in the family that children learn the human and Christian values which enable them to have a constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that they learn solidarity between the generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and how to welcome others. It is in their own home that young people, experiencing their parents’ affection, discover what love is and learn how to love.”
Motherhood ought to be supported in concrete ways by public policy, the pope said. And “women with a profession” should be assured “the possibility of balancing family and work.” For, the pope observed, too often “women are put in the position of having to choose between the two.”
Pope Benedict urged that local government promote and support maternity rights, including public or privately run child-care centers, to help ensure that “a child is not seen as a problem but as a gift and a great joy.” Furthermore, he encouraged action to aid women and families who are finding it “difficult to welcome” a new pregnancy. He said:
“May public institutions understand how to offer their support so that family counselors are in a position to help these women overcome the causes that can induce them to terminate pregnancy.”
Finally, Pope Benedict encouraged action to support families whose well-being is threatened by the global recession. In this context he considered the effects of the present jobs shortage, on young people particularly.
Met by few job opportunities, the young find it difficult to plan for the future, the pope explained. He called it “urgent” that every effort be made “to promote employment policies that can guarantee work and a decent livelihood, an indispensable condition for giving life to new families.”