Pope Calls Attention to Family’s Vital Role
by David Gibson
The pastoral care of families should be accorded “a prominent place” in the church’s evangelizing activities, Pope Benedict XVI said March 28 in a message to a meeting in Bogota, Colombia, of Latin American and Caribbean bishops responsible for family ministries. After all, he noted, “the family is the most beloved value of the peoples of this noble region.”
The pope’s message accented the great hope invested by the church in families. The church invites families “to become conscious of their valuable mission in the world,” he said.
Sadly, however, families today suffer under weighty pressures that are difficult to contend with, the pope suggested. He wrote, “We cannot remain indifferent in the face of these challenges.”
Encompassed by the church’s pastoral care for families is the promotion of a culture of life, along with efforts aimed at assuring that “the rights of families” are recognized and respected, the pope said.
Rapid cultural changes, social instability, poverty, false ideologies and educational programs “that trivialize sexuality” are among the adverse factors that create difficulties in home life today, Pope Benedict commented. His message expressed affection for and solidarity with families “who find themselves in situations of difficulty.”
Families not only are the objects of the church’s evangelization efforts, they also are among those who carry out the work of evangelization, according to the pope’s message. The church, he said, calls families “to be a real subject of evangelization and apostolate.”
The family should be viewed as a “seedbed of virtues” and a “school” in which its members learn to live peacefully and constructively with others, the pope’s message said. And it referred to the family as a “privileged realm in which human life will be received and protected – in a joyful and responsible way – from its beginning to its natural end.”
Pope Benedict insisted that no effort is wasted in working to ensure that “each family, founded on the indissoluble union between a man and a woman, carries out its mission.” The family is a “living cell of society,” he said.
His message recalled the work of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in May 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil. The conference’s concluding document covered a vast range of concerns, including the important needs and roles of families.
Parents must gain a new awareness of their “responsibility for the integral formation of their children” – a responsibility they cannot relinquish but that will prove joyful, the Aparecida concluding document said. It urged family ministries to “offer opportunities for formation” to families, including catechetical materials and celebrations that serve to support the family in fulfilling “its educational mission.”
Pope Benedict traveled to Brazil to participate in the start of the Aparecida conference. One section of his speech opening the gathering was devoted to the family. “The family, the ‘patrimony of humanity,’ constitutes one of the most important treasures of Latin American countries,” he said.
His Aparecida speech described the family as “the school of faith, the training ground for human and civil values, the hearth in which human life is born and is generously and responsibly welcomed.” The family, he said, “constitutes part of the good of peoples and of the whole of humanity.”
In his message to the end-of-March meeting in Bogota, Pope Benedict said he does not doubt “that the continental mission promoted in Aparecida, which is awakening so many hopes everywhere, will serve to revive” the ministry to marriage and the family in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
He urged participants in the Bogota meeting to continue the pastoral work envisioned during the Aparecida conference by “helping families to experience a profound meeting with Christ, by listening to his word, by prayer, sacramental life and the exercise of charity.”
To aid families in their vital role, “it is necessary to intensify the formation of all who in one way or another dedicate themselves to the evangelization of families,” the pope said. He added that Christ strengthens those who work diligently to support the discovery by every member of a family of God’s plan of love for each person.
Pope Benedict has turned attention several times in recent months to the pastoral support families need from dioceses and parishes. When he baptized 21 infants Jan. 9 in the Sistine Chapel, he said that collaboration between the church and the family is especially “necessary,” given the daunting challenges parents encounter today in raising children. He urged parishes to “do their utmost” to sustain families in their role of passing on the faith.
Pope Benedict also spoke about the church’s collaboration with parents and families in his November 2010 apostolic exhortation titled “The Word of the Lord.” He urged recognition of the role the church should play in supporting and assisting families with “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,” he said.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.