TO PARTICIPANTS IN CONGRESSES ON THE FAMILY
To make the family a
community in communion
On Monday 7 December 1981, the Holy Father received in audience the
participants in two study meetings being held in Rome and dedicated to problems
of the family. The first was the national Congress of the Workers in the Family
Apostolate, sponsored by the Italian Episcopal Commission for the Family and
dedicated to the subject "Communion and community in the domestic Church". The
group was led by the bishop members of the Commission, with the President, Mons.
Costanzo Micci and the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Mons.
The second meeting was organized by the Polish Institute for Christian
Culture in Rome, by the Maximilian Kolbe Cultural Centre and by the Juan Diego
de Guadalupe Foundation in Buenos Aires. The subject of the work was "The family
at the roots of man, the nation and the Church".
The Pope delivered the following address.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters!
1. My cordial greeting to you and a particularly affectionate welcome. I am
sincerely happy to have this meeting with such highly qualified representatives
of the Catholic clergy and laity: there are, in fact, present at the audience
the participants in the Congress organized by the Italian Episcopal Conference
on the subject: "Communion and community in the domestic Church". With them are
also the members of the Symposium organized on the subject: "The family at the
roots of man, the nation and the Church" by the Polish Institute for Christian
Culture, the Maximilian Kolbe Cultural Centre and the Juan Diego Guadalupe
How could we not rejoice in the revival of interest in the family, to which
the two Congresses eloquently bear witness? If, in fact, there is a field in
which it is urgent to make the concordant commitment of the whole Christian
community converge, it is precisely that of the family apostolate, which is
faced today by particularly complex and serious problems.
I therefore wish to express to you my satisfaction with what you are doing in
this area that is vital both for the Church and for society, and I am also
anxious to take advantage of this opportunity to address to you a warm word of
encouragement, exhorting each one to persevere with renewed enthusiasm in the
lines of action decided together, in spite of the difficulties which are
certainly not lacking, in an apostolate such as yours.
2. The question to which the Congress organized by the Italian Episcopal
Conference has tried to give an answer in these days - "Is the Italian family a
community in communion?" - is one of the central questions in this delicate
matter. The family, in fact, having been instituted "from the beginning" by God,
possesses a truth of its own to which we must continually return, and in the
light of which we must judge every situation. To ask ourselves, therefore, if
the family is a "community in communion" is equivalent to asking ourselves if
the family is really and wholly carrying out God's plan for it.
Listening continually and faithfully to God's Word and treasuring all that
the experience of humanity has perceived, the Church has been discovering more
and more the divine plan which constitutes the underlying truth of every family.
With particularly deep insight, my Predecessor Paul VI, of venerated memory,
expressed this truth concisely: "Husband and wife, through that mutual gift of
themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, seek to develop that
kind of personal union in which they complement each other in order to cooperate
with God in the generation and education of new lives." (Humanae Vitae,
The family is a "community in communion" when, above all, the conjugal
community is in communion. As we read in the Book of Genesis (1:28), God created
man in his image: calling him to existence out of love, he called him at the
same time to love. Since God is love and man is created in his image, the
vocation to love has been, so to speak, organically inscribed in this image,
that is, in the humanity of man, whom God created male and female. And the
realization of this image is the deep truth of conjugal communion which makes
family communion possible at the root.
With the vocation to love, in fact, there is inseparably connected the
vocation to the gift of life. The Church has always taught this inseparable
connection: conjugal love is the source of human life, and the gift of human
life requires conjugal love at its origin. It is in light of this relationship,
set up by God, that we understand how the family community can be in communion
only when it is the place where love generates life and life springs from love.
Neither of these two realities, love and life, would be authentic if they were
separated: conjugal love would not exist according to the whole measure of its
truth, nor would human life have an origin worthy of its unique grandeur. In a
word: the conjugal community would not be in full communion nor, consequently,
would it be able to make the family community be in communion.
3. "The Lord", as Vatican II teaches, "has restored, perfected, and elevated"
conjugal love with "special gifts of grace and divine love" (Gaudium et Spes,
Going back to the sources of conjugal communion and, therefore, of family
communion, means going back to the Sacrament of Marriage. In it, in fact, the
man and the woman are made participants, as the Letter to the Ephesians teaches
(5:25-32), in the same act of donation carried out on the Cross and always
eucharistically present in the Church.
It is this act which reconstructs the communion of men with God and with one
another, which has been destroyed by sin. Through the sacrament, the man and the
woman, freed from the hardness of their hearts, are able to realize the event of
communion, both in their conjugal community and in their family community.
4. Here our attention, however, is addressed not so much to the family in
general, but rather to the Italian family. You intend to make every effort that
the Italian family, in the particular conditions in which it finds itself, will
feel called to enter the eternal plan of the Creator and Redeemer, and will
undertake to unite in itself the mystery of life and the mystery of love,
causing them to work together and to unite with each other inseparably, as God
Also the Italian family has undergone deep changes in recent years: changes
which demand from Christians a strong capacity for discernment, in order to be
able to distinguish what is positive in them from what is negative. The
criterion that must guide this discernment is that plan of God's for marriage
and the family about which I briefly spoke above. To seek the criteria for
discernment elsewhere would have as its inevitable consequence the construction
of family communities that would never be fully in communion.
In particular, we must not forget what the Second Vatican Council taught:
"There can be no conflict between the divine laws governing the transmission of
life and the fostering of authentic married love" (Gaudium et Spes, 51).
Defending the doctrine taught by Encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Church is
aware that she is carrying out a precious service for the conjugal community, in
fact, for man as such: for his truth and his dignity. This teaching must be
faithfully transmitted in catechesis both of spouses and of those who are
preparing for marriage. Silences, uncertainties or ambiguities in this
connection have as their consequence the dimming of the human and Christian
truth of conjugal love.
What destroys family communion even more is the scourge of abortion, which
the Council rightly calls an "abominable crime" (Gaudium et Spes, 51).
The witness of Christian families must be clear in this regard. No human
authority can declare legitimate what the divine law condemns: the life of every
man, even of man already conceived and not yet born, deserves absolute and
unconditional respect. If this primordial right is not respected, how is it
possible, then, to speak of human rights and of the dignity of the human person?
Is there not a patent contradiction in all this? An immense "space of charity"
opens to the Christian family in this regard: the space of help for difficult
pregnancies, for welcome, for civil commitment that there will not be made
common a mentality in which the absolute value of human life already conceived
and not yet born is no longer perceived.
5. No less stimulating is the subject dealt with at the Symposium sponsored
by the organizations I mentioned at the beginning: the family as the place in
which man, understood in all his dimensions, is born.
The very formulation of the subject reveals the deep conviction which I fully
share - about the decisive role that the family is called to play in the future
of man, of society and of the evangelizing work of the Church. The family, in
fact is "a school for human enrichment" (Gaudium et Spes, 52); in it are
born the multiple personal relations which constitute the real measure of the
development of a personality. A man who is not capable of opening freely and
personally, out of love to the relationship with his fellow men, has certainly
not attained the maturity of his own personality.
In the family are born those fundamental relations of brotherhood which
constitute the very basis of social brotherhood thanks to which men communicate
with one another as true brothers, who walk together along the way of life, not
as competitors, strangers or even enemies, but helping one another to reach
their highest goals. It is possible to live brotherhood only when there is a
common filial experience at the basis. This is why awareness of divine
fatherhood, of the presence of God the Father, who in Christ makes us his
children and therefore brothers and sisters called to be the "salt of the earth
and the light of the world", is so important.
We cannot expect a society renewed in its values without a deep renewal of
the family. It is the generator and transmitter of culture. We will not be able
to arrive at an effective evangelization of culture without deeply evangelizing
the family. It is a matter of a great responsibility, which we must rally to
defend, strengthen and stimulate Christian families to commitment since the
destiny of society and its evangelization depends largely on them.
If, as I said in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, man is "the first
and fundamental way of the Church" (n. 14), and if it is through the family that
he has complete access to his humanity, then we must conclude that the whole
Church is involved in service of the family, to ensure that it will become more
and more what it is called to be.
Continue your apostolic commitment therefore, with renewed enthusiasm, dear
brothers and sisters. The cause is a most noble one: it is a question, in short,
of helping modern man to love human love and to have that esteem and respect for
it which are due to its value.
Rest assured, in your action, that I appreciate your commitment and support
it with my prayer. In confirmation of these sentiments, I am happy to impart to
you, to your relatives and to all those who share the ideals in which you
believe, the Apostolic Blessing, imploring every desired heavenly favour.
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