March 2, 1990
POPE TO FAMILY COUNSELORS:
We and love are threatened
On 2 March, Pope John Paul held an audience for participants in the sixth
national convention for Italian Family Counselors of Christian Inspiration. The
family counselors work in Government-funded agencies dealing with family
problems. Each agency offers clients a choice between meeting with a Christian
counselor or a secular counselor.
Dear brothers and sisters,
1. I joyfully accepted the invitation to meet with you, the participants in
the sixth National Convention of the Italian Confederation of Family Counselors
of Christian Inspiration. I direct to all and to each my affectionate and
heartfelt greetings. I express especially my esteem for the ecclesiastical
Consultant, Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi of Ancona-Osimo, and for the national
President, the Honorable Ines Boffardi.
The Church looks with great interest upon the activity which you counselors
have been engaged in for years with professional competence and in a deeply
human and Christian spirit, since the object of your service is the family,
that very family which the Church recognizes as a basic human good and which
takes on the dignity of the "domestic Church" within God's People.
The family which, on the one hand, corresponds to God's eternal and
unchangeable plan, but on the other hand, feels the effects of factors
contingent upon different historical eras, encounters in today's society and
culture, besides positive stimuli, numerous difficulties and dangers. The family
today is passing through a propitious time, because of the growing affirmation
given its personalist and social values within the community of society
and that of the Church. At the same time, however, fundamental values,
those of life and love, are heavily threatened today in differing ways and at
Fortunately, new resources and valuable aids are available today for
protecting and promoting the family: among these must be counted family
counselors, always providing that they are respectful of their true nature
of serving the family.
2. The theme of your convention's work is expressed evocatively in these
words: "to be born a person, to grow up a person". It is a topic which
happily expresses the very logic behind the Counselors of Christian inspiration,
whose service is rendered to the person, to the couple and to the family:
therefore to the person-in-relationships. In the concrete, the person as such
must define himself or herself as a living relationship, as the "I"
open to the "you" of the other, especially in that basic relationship which
is fulfilled in the primordial experience of the life of a couple and a family.
You have wanted to study in depth two essential moments in this
relationship: the time of birth and the period of growing up.
Doubtlessly it is extremely important to bring together and put forth the
"human" dimension, and thus the typically personal dimension of
"being born" and "growing up" in the context of a culture which too often looks
at these periods of life and considers only some partial and superficial aspects
The service of family counselors is devoted above all to the human,
psychological, emotional and relational aspects of the person, both because of
the need to get to the deepest causes of distress affecting interpersonal
relationships in the inner life of the couple and the family, and because of the
need to develop quickly broad preventive initiatives, that is, personal
In this sense, your family counselors can find in the Christian inspiration
which motivates them a stimulus for carrying out a more effective activity on
behalf of the universality and the unity of the values and the needs of the
person, and, at the same time, the spark for making an entirely new and original
contribution to the person himself: Christian inspiration, in fact, is rooted in
that faith which uncovers, with wonder and great awe, the whole truth
about man as a created being in Jesus Christ, in the image and likeness of
God: of God-Person, of God-Love who makes a gift of himself (cf. Apost. Letter
Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 7).
3. In this light, "being born" as a person can be seen as a deeply
personalistic phenomenon, not only in the sense that it involves the persons
of the parents and the child, but also in the sense that both the former and the
latter are involved in their dignity as persons who give themselves.
The act of "being born" a human being is the outgrowth and the sign of the
giving of the gift of love, a husband's self-giving to his wife and the
wife's to her husband. But, even more, the self-giving of these two together
to the child, inasmuch as they ultimately become "one flesh" in the "new flesh"
of the child. In a perspective which in a certain way is intuitive from human
reason itself and made perfectly clear by faith, the conjugal and parental
self-gift expresses in time and makes visible the eternal self-gift of God the
Creator and Father. Parents are the instruments and the conscious and
responsible collaborators of this mysterious self-gift, which is the primitive
source from which every person who enters this world springs. Thus, for the
phrase "being born a person" to reveal and make present its complete reality, it
is urgent that couples, as Vatican II wrote, "in their task of transmitting
human life and educating their children... realize that they are thereby
cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are almost its interpreters"
(Gaudium et Spes, n. 50).
It follows from this that the child, from the start and evermore, must
be thought of and loved in his measureless dignity as a person, as a value in
himself and for himself, as a good, as a gift. Yes, as a gift, because this is
the child's basic identity: "If the child is the fruit of their mutual self-gift
of love, the child is, in his or her turn, a gift for both of them, a gift which
springs from a gift", as I said in my discourse to the VII Symposium of European
Bishops (17 October 1989, n. 5).
4. The perspective of gift, which places parents and child on the
identical level of personal dignity, becomes determinant and definitive in all
the problems which are linked to human growth and the maturation of persons, in
particular regarding their mutual relationships.
All interpersonal relationships, and in a special way the relationships
between spouses and between parents and children which take on a basic and
symbolic form in respect to other relationships, must be lived according to
the dignity and the special purpose of the human person. Vatican Council II,
in a very simple passage, but one of exceptional weight, describes that dignity
in this way: "Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own
sake". Adding that the person cannot "discover his true self except in a sincere
giving of himself" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 24).
"Growing up a person", then, means to offer to each person the means and
the conditions so that "he may discover himself fully", that is, fulfill himself
as a person in his dignity as "gift" and in his purpose of "giving-self" to
This is the first and basic task of the family, as I wrote in the Apostolic
Exhortation Familiaris Consertio: "Its first task is to live faithfully
the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community
of persons" (n. 18).
The service of counselors can also offer an important counseling aid in
better fulfilling that task, especially in situations in which, because of
psychological, educational, environmental or social difficulties, the couple's
relationship and those within the family become problematic and tend to
deteriorate and even break up.
5. This vision of the person as gift-making-itself-gift does not allow in any
way for a private and closed interpretation of marital and family
problems; on the contrary, when understood properly, a similar out look serves
as the basis of and stimulus for a specific involvement of society.
In fact, the humanistic gift which springs forth from it, enriching
interpersonal relationships within the couple and the family, contributes
beneficially to the humanization of all of society. Society, in its turn,
discovers within that perspective its specific responsibilities to the couple
and the family, to whom it understands that it must offer the chance to develop
to the fullest its characteristic humanizing role.
Also in this sense I wished to recall the apostolic commitment of the lay
faithful, a commitment which you counselors carry out in a privileged way:
"Required in the face of this is a vast, extensive and systematic work,
sustained not only by culture but also by economic and legislative means, which
will safeguard the role of the family in its task of being the primary place
of 'humanization' for the person and for society. It is above all the lay
faithful's duty in the apostolate to make the family aware of its identity as
the primary social nucleus, and its basic role in society, so that it may itself
become always a more active and responsible place for proper growth and
proper participation in the life of society" (Christifideles Laici, n.
My dear people, these are the noble tasks which lie before you. In exhorting
you to pursue them with renewed zeal, I bless all from my heart.