“The family is a community of life with its own consistency. It is not the sum of the persons by whom it is constituted, but rather a 'community of persons'”, said Pope Francis, quoting Blessed John Paul II's encyclical “Familiaris consortio”, in an address to participants in the twenty-first plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family taking place in Rome during these days, whom he received in audience this morning.
The family, continued the Pontiff, is “the place where we learn to love, the natural centre of human life”. … Each one of us builds his or her own personality within the family. … It is there that we learn the art of dialogue and interpersonal communication”. For this reason “the community-family … asks to be recognised as such, even more nowadays, when the protection of individual rights prevails”.
“The family is based on marriage. Through an act of free and faithful love, Christian couples give witness that marriage, as a sacrament, is the foundation upon which they base their family and strengthens the conjugal union and mutual self-giving. … Conjugal and familiar love also clearly demonstrate the vocation of the person to love in a unique and everlasting way, and show that the trials, sacrifices and crises in the lives of couples, as in the family as a whole, represent stages of growth in goodness, truth and beauty. … It is an experience of faith in God and of reciprocal trust, profound freedom, and holiness, because holiness presupposes self-giving with trust and sacrifice every day throughout life!”.
The Holy Father continued by placing special emphasis on two phases of family life, childhood and old age, commenting that, “Children and the elderly represent the two poles of life and are also the most vulnerable and often the most forgotten group. A society that abandons its children or marginalises its elderly members not only carries out an act of injustice but also sanctions the failure of that society. Taking care of the young and the elderly is the choice of civilisation”.
Pope Francis expressed his approval of the new icon of the family, created by the Pontifical Council, which depicts the scene of the Presentation of Jesus at the temple with Mary and Joseph who bring the Child, as required by the law, and the two elderly figures of Simeon and Anna who, moved by the Spirit, welcome him as the Saviour. The title of the icon is 'His mercy extends from generation to generation'”.
“The 'Good News' of the family”, he concluded, “is a very important part of evangelisation, that Christians can communicate to everyone through the witness of their lives; and they already do so – this is evident in secularised societies. … We therefore propose to all, with respect and courage, the beauty of marriage and the family, illuminated by the Gospel! And for this reason we draw close, with attention and affection, to families in difficulty, to those who are compelled to leave their homeland, who are divided, who do not have homes or work, or who suffer for many reasons; to couples in crisis or those who have separated. We wish to be close to all of them”.
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