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Family should be focus of concern

January 30, 1993

Holy Father urges Council for the Family to encourage initiatives in the particular Churches


On Saturday, 30 January, the Holy Father addressed the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. In his address, given in Italian, the Pope mentioned the sacrifice of Carla Levati Ardenghi, a 28-year-old woman from Italy's Bergamo area, who, with the support of her husband and 10-year-old son, refused treatment for her cancer and an abortion, either of which would have caused the death of her unborn child. She died on 26 January, eight hours after the premature birth of Stefano.


Your Eminences,

Your Excellencies, Members of the Executive Committee,

Dear Married Couples,

Members of the Pontifical Council for the Family,

1. It is a great joy for me to meet you at the conclusion of the plenary meeting with which you have chosen to begin this new year of activities. To all I address my respectful and cordial greetings, with an expression of particular gratitude to Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, who has nobly conveyed your common sentiments, recounting in rapid summary the course of your work and underscoring the task of service to the family and to life, the purpose for which the Pontifical Council was established.

The theme upon which you decided to reflect, "The diocesan structures of the family apostolate", is one of special importance, particularly in view of the approaching International Year of the Family, which will be celebrated in 1994.

You know well how the apostolate of the family and of life plays a privileged role in the Church and in the ministry of the Vicar of Christ, especially in today's social context. Even today, in fact, both of these realities are subject to particularly insidious attacks which come at times from those very institutions from which one could rightly expect protection and support. However, individual signs of hope are not lacking, such as that afforded by the event which is receiving much attention in the media these days: a mother, a father, a son - a family, that is - who have made a moving agreement of love to ensure that access to life is not denied to a new human being.

Therefore, much insistence is rightly being placed today on the central position that should be given the family apostolate in planning the activities of Dioceses and Episcopal Conferences. Evangelization in fact necessarily passes through the family which is, in turn, the object and the subject of the Gospel proclamation. "To the extent in which the Christian family accepts the Gospel and matures in faith, it becomes an evangelizing community" (Familiaris consortio, n. 52). The strength and stability of the family fabric represent favourable conditions for the soundness of the Christian community and of all society.

Every local Church should promote the family

2. The same problems which marriage and the family encounter stimulate the creativity of those involved in the family apostolate, the heart of evangelization.

I had occasion to recall this in my meeting with the Bishops in charge of the Family Apostolate Commissions in Africa who met at the Pontifical Council for the Family from 28 September to 2 October 1992. While trusting in the action of the Spirit, the soul and guide of the Church, Dioceses, parishes, and apostolic movements cannot fail to make it their concern that suitable structures be set up to ensure an adequate response to the present challenges affecting the institution of the family.

"Every local Church", I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, "and, in more particular terms, every parochial community, must become more vividly aware of the grace and responsibility that it receives from the Lord in order that it may promote the pastoral care of the family. No plan for organized pastoral work, at any level, must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral care of the family" (n. 70).

It would be useful and opportune in the Episcopal Conferences for the Family Life Commissions to assume tasks similar to those which the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus indicated for your Pontifical Council (cf. nn. 139-141), with specific pastoral responsibility for serving the family, the sanctuary of life. This would make possible a more structured relationship within the Episcopal Conferences themselves and with the individual diocesan communities.

In the Dioceses, then, it would be important to establish, in accordance with circumstances and means - for in fact the needs of the urban apostolate are different from those of the rural apostolate - some efficient coordinating agencies, so as to strengthen the ecclesial body as a whole, under the active and supportive intervention of the Bishops, following the lines marked out by Familiaris consortio and taking due account of the prophetic richness of Humanae vitae and the directives of the Holy See's Charter on the Rights of the Family. The Gospel of hope would thus be able to reach the "domestic churches" in great abundance and, through a renewed and courageous evangelization which sees the family actively involved in proclaiming the Gospel, to inject new life-blood into the whole social fabric.

3. The primary task, then, is to form the family so as to enable it to be a responsible and qualified subject of evangelization. A providential tool for such a work, which can help family members to grow in the knowledge of the faith (cf. Catechesi tradendae, n. 68), is also represented by the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the basis of which it will be possible to complete the planned "Catechism for Families", a clear text, brief and easy to assimilate. Parents will be able to make use of this in their educational ministry which, "in so far as it is rooted in and derives from the one mission of the Church and is ordained to the upbuilding of the one Body of Christ... must remain in intimate communion and collaborate responsibly with all the other evangelizing and catechetical activities present and at work in the ecclesial community at the diocesan and parochial levels' (Familiaris consortio, n. 53).

Marital spirituality is essential to evangelization

The family should also be helped to take part in liturgical life, whose highest and fullest manifestation is the Eucharist, and to discover ever more the value and importance of family prayer.

The spirituality of the married couple, without which it is impossible to live fully the evangelizing mission proper to the family, draws nourishment from the word of God, following the example of the Mother of Emmanuel who "treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19).

I would like here to mention some significant experiences of groups of families who meet together in order to mature in their faith, to pray together and, in the light of Gospel values, to evaluate effective ways and means to intervene responsibly in certain dangerous situations connected with the acceptance of human life. This would also be a good occasion to mention the centres for the support of human life that have been set up, initiatives to help the elderly and the sick, gestures of effective concern for the poorest of the poor and, especially, for families in need, so that they can feel the solidarity of those who are called to protect their rights and to promote their dignity (cf. Encyclical Centesimus annus, n. 28).

4. The family should, therefore, be at the centre of the concerns of every diocesan community, of every parish and apostolic organization sensitive to the needs of our times. This involves actively strengthening the family nucleus in preparation for marriage, accompanying the young couples in their formative journey, being committed to an adequate apostolate for youth and for the elderly.

It is the job of Bishops, who are primarily responsible for the apostolic activity in the Diocese, to provide for the training of those more specifically engaged in the family apostolate. The Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family has been created at the Pontifical Lateran University with this intention and it is to be hoped that similar centres will be created in other parts of the world to offer priests, religious and lay persons concrete opportunities for a formation firmly anchored in Christian doctrine.

5. The year 1994, as I have mentioned will be the International Year of the Family, a very propitious occasion to bring to light the identity of an institution firmly rooted in natural law and to underscore its duties and its irreplaceable mission.

Deepen the values of family life

The Church is preparing to celebrate this year with a spirit open to hope: it will be a providential opportunity to renew the proclamation of the Gospel of the family. Your Pontifical Council is already at work to ensure that an event of such world-wide import will be able to yield the hoped-for fruits of a greater awareness and of a deepening of the values proper to the family institution.

Evangelizing the family is what we have at heart, and I am happy to note that in your plenary meeting, thanks to the collaboration of many important apostolic movements, you have sought the best way to bring this concern for the new evangelization to all believers. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, which reaps the fruits of the work of the Synod on the Family, is an invaluable source of inspiration for the recommendations and suggestions which you intend to address, as the occasion arises, to the Episcopal Conferences, to the individual local Churches and to all the members of the Catholic world.

Ten years after the publication of the Holy See's Charter on the Rights of the Family, the scheduled International Year will help to promote the awareness, the assimilation and the practical implementation of such fundamental principles. Conscious of their own rights, families will be able to make their voices heard with greater authority in the forums where laws and policies concerning the family are formulated.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, my hope is that the reflections of these days, in the perspective of the awaited International Year, can arouse renewed interest in the family, the basic cell of society and of the Church. Thanks to your efforts, I am certain that the initiatives of the family apostolate in Dioceses will intensify, as we look to the now imminent third millennium with missionary zeal.

May Mary, Virgin and Mother, accompany you in your difficult and exciting work. May she protect the Christian families so that they may truly be little "domestic churches" and sanctuaries of life.

With these wishes, which I make my heartfelt prayer, I impart to all my affectionate Blessing.

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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