THE FIRST CONGRESS FOR THE FAMILY OF AFRICA AND EUROPE
Inviolability of human life in the
sanctity of the family
On Thursday, 15 January 1981, the Holy Father received in audience the
participants in the first Congress for the Family of Africa and Europe. The Pope
delivered the following message to the group assembled in the Clementine Hall.
1. I am very happy to receive this morning the participants in so important
an event as the first Congress for the Family of Africa and Europe, which you
are attending here in Rome at the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University
of the Sacred Heart. I greet you all with heartfelt affection and I express to
you my esteem and appreciation. Your Congress comes soon after the recent Synod
of Bishops, which set out to specify "the role of the Christian family in the
modern world in accordance with the eternal plan concerning life and love"
(Address at concluding Mass of Synod, 3-25 October 1980).
With regard to respect for human life, which has been the principal subject
for your consideration, the Synod "openly confirmed the validity and clear truth
of the prophetic message contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, a message
profound in meaning and pertinent to modern conditions", while at the same time
it made an appeal that the "biblical and 'personalistic' reasons for the
teaching be continually clarified with the aim of making the whole of the
Church's teachings clear to all people of good will and better understood day by
day" (ibidem, 8).
I find it truly encouraging to see you here for this congress, following on a
similar one for the family of the Americas. You are a group of experts in
various fields and from different walks of life: bishops and theologians,
philosophers and medical experts, as well as many religious and laity who are
working "in the field"; and you have come together to seek the best manner of
placing the enriching teaching of Christ at the service of couples who wish to
live out the authentic vision of the human person and of human sexuality.
A special word of thanks is due to Sister Doctor Anna Cappella, who in the
midst of so many other duties, has had to bear the greatest responsibility for
the organization of this impressive Congress. I know also that many of the
delegates present, especially those from almost twenty African countries, have
been chosen and sponsored in various ways by their Episcopal Conferences and
ecclesiastical authorities. I appreciate the sacrifices that this has involved
and I wish to thank your bishops for this sign that they give of the priority of
the family apostolate in their pastoral activity.
2. I have carefully studied the content of the programme of your Congress. I
wish to recall for you the words that I addressed recently to the members of the
College of Cardinals concerning the very questions that you are considering.
These words sum up my own pastoral programme concerning the family: a theme
which must receive priority today, if the Church is to render an authentic
service to our tormented world; and I repeat them to you today, as the
representatives of the families of Africa and of Europe: "in the face of
contempt for the supreme value of life, which goes so far as to ratify the
suppression of the human being in the mother's womb; in the face of the
disintegration of family unity, the only guarantee for the complete formation of
children and young people; in the face of the devaluation of clear and pure
love, unbridled hedonism, the spread of pornography, it is necessary to
recall emphatically the holiness of marriage, the value of the family and the
inviolability of human life. I will never tire of carrying out this mission,
which I consider cannot be deferred" (Address to College of Cardinals, 22
This is the message that I have taught clearly on the occasion of my pastoral
visits to the nations of Africa and Europe. It is the message that I direct to
each of you, who come from various parts of these two continents, but are united
by your desire to follow the authentic teaching of Christ concerning the family
and concerning human life. Your contribution to the development of your own
culture, your own society and your own nation depends greatly on the manner in
which you live your vocation as families and to the extent that you help other
families to do likewise. I stressed this point in addressing the families of
Kenya, when I said: "The strength and vitality of any country will only be as
great as the strength and vitality of the family within that country. For this
reason Christian couples have an irreplaceable role in today's world. The
generous love and fidelity of husband and wife offer stability and hope to a
world torn by hatred and division. By their lifelong perseverance in
life-giving love they show the unbreakable and sacred character of the
sacramental marriage bond. At the same time, it is the Christian family that
most simply and most profoundly promotes the dignity and worth of human life
from the moment of its conception" (Homily at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, 7 May
3. It is only in this broad context of God's design for the family and for
the creation of new life that one can consider the more specific question of the
regulation of births. The wisdom of the Creator has enriched human sexuality
with great values and a special dignity (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 49). The
vocation of Christian couples is to realize these values in their lives.
Perhaps the most urgent need today is to develop an authentic philosophy of
life and of the transmission of life, considered precisely as "pro-creation",
that is, as discovering and collaborating with the design of God the Creator.
The design of the Creator has provided the human organism with structures and
functions to assist couples in arriving at responsible parenthood. "In fact, as
experience bears witness, not every conjugal act is followed by new life. God
has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves,
cause a separation in the succession of births" (Humanae Vitae, 11).
The plan of the Creator is impressed not only on the human body but also on
the human spirit. How sad it is to note that the spirit of so many men and women
has drifted away from this divine plan! For so many men and women of our time,
new life is looked on as a threat and something to be feared; others,
intoxicated with the technical possibilities offered by scientific progress,
wish to manipulate the process of the transmission of life and, following only
the subjective criteria of personal satisfaction, are prepared even to destroy
newly conceived life.
The Christian vision and attitude must be quite different: inspired by
objective moral standards based on an authentic and all-embracing vision of the
human person, the Christian stands in awe of all the laws that God has impressed
on the body and spirit of man. Your task as Christian experts is to discover,
understand better and treasure these laws, and to assist couples and all men and
women of good will to appreciate the life-giving faculty which God has
given them in trust, to be used according to his design.
Seen in this profound context of God's design for marriage and of the
vocation to married life, your task will never be reduced to a question of
presenting one or other biological method, much less to any watering down of the
challenging call of the infinite God. Rather your task is, in view of the
situation of each couple, to see which method or combination of methods best
helps them to respond as they ought to the demands of God's call.
Your task then is above all to lead the men and women of our time to that
true communion of life, love and grace which is the rich ideal of Christian
marriage, appreciating the essential inseparability of the unitive and
procreative aspects of the conjugal act.
In his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, referred to so often during the
recent Synod as "a prophetic Encyclical", Paul VI noted that he believed "that
people of our day are particularly capable of grasping the deeply reasonable and
human character of this principle" (Humanae Vitae, 12). It is our task,
as apostles of human life, to assist the men and women of our time to
arrive at this authentic vision through a solid and consistent catechesis of
Upon all of you in your efforts I invoke the grace and strength of our Lord
Then speaking in Italian, the Holy Father continued:
As a tribute to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, which organized
this Congress, and in consideration of the large numbers of Italian-speaking
participants, I would now like to add a word in their language. I express in the
first place my congratulations on the useful initiative, which has gathered
persons highly qualified as regards scientific commitment and generous service
to life. I am happy to testify to my deep appreciation for the work that each of
you, ladies and gentlemen, carries out in this field, and I willingly take the
opportunity to encourage all efforts aimed at assisting the family in the very
noble task of being the cradle of new life.
The Second Vatican Council opportunely recalled that "children are really the
supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of
their parents." (Gaudium et Spes, n. 50). It is necessary, therefore, to
offer married couples all opportune help, so that they may adequately respond to
their vocation, namely "to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the
Saviour, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day"
That will be beneficial, moreover, for the fuller realization of their mutual
love. Not living their union, in fact, just for themselves, but also for others,
that is, for their children, they will discover a new way of understanding and
mutual presence: the children will become testimonies of their love and each
partner will be able to recognize in them the living presence of the other.
May this Congress, therefore, serve to confirm and strengthen in each
of you the resolution to dedicate yourselves with renewed enthusiasm to this
well-deserving and worthy cause. This is a wish that I willingly accompany with
my conciliatory Apostolic Blessing.
other Papal Writings and Speeches]