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March 2, 1990


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 different levels.

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 of them.

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 education.

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 other.

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. 40).

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.

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