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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. Luigi Maverna.

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 Foundation.

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, 8).

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, 49).

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 joined them.

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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