DECLARATION OF THE THEOLOGICAL PASTORAL CONGRESS, RIO
International Theological Pastoral Congress on the Family was held in Rio de
Janeiro, from October 1-3 1997, as part of the Second World Meeting of the Holy
Father with Families. More than 2,800 participants, from every continent and
representing nearly 100 countries, were brought together by the Pontifical
Council for the Family and the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro. In plenary
sessions and language groups which enriched the reflections in the former with
the particular themes entrusted to them, the participants explored the major
aspects of the theme of the World Meeting: The Family, Gift and Commitment,
Hope for Humanity.
At the end of the Congress the Holy Father praised the
combination of divine and human architecture in Rio de Janeiro. He pointed out
that the divine architecture was superior, but man is an architect because he is
made in the image of God. The family is also a living combination of divine and
human architecture: the domestic church.
In words inspired by the Successor of Peter, we present the
unanimously approved Declaration.
THE RIO DECLARATION ON THE FAMILY
We confidently proclaim the truth of the family, the Gospel
of the Family, that is revealed when we consider the family as a gift,
commitment and hope for humanity. We recognise the energies, resilience and
creativity of the family that reflects God's original plan as explained in the
Papal Magisterium that has been greatly enriched by the Holy Father John Paul
II, and a progressive doctrinal and theological deepening of the truth about the
family and life that guides many reflections and efforts. From various pastoral
aspects, a stimulating, pastoral mobilisation is taking place in the Episcopal
Conferences, dioceses and parishes. Movements for the family and life are
growing with greater strength and co-ordination in the face of the challenges
We express our firm hope in the family, to which our Congress
attests, although we take account of the major challenges that families are
facing in our era.
1. THE FAMILY IN TURBULENT TIMES
1.1 Although awareness is growing regarding some rights of
the family which should be recognised and there are obvious signs of greater
concern for the cause of the family, in the legislative area laws and codes
needed to protect the family are lacking.
The importance of the family as the basic unit of society has
been neglected by many governments and these have failed to undergird it as
widespread urbanisation, materialistic social trends, practical problems and the
social acceptance of selfishness and irresponsibility contribute to the
breakdown of families.
1.2 Today, unhappily, the family is subject to a kind of
total hostility which does not only strike at one aspect or another but at the
very conception of the family, the heart and meaning of the conjugal community.
These are effects of an erroneous anthropological vision.
The integration of human sexuality into a serious,
responsible and total self-giving open to life is often forgotten and
substituted by self-centred, closed attitudes.
The devaluation of marriage, through easy divorce laws and
circumstances that favour desertion and cohabitation, have resulted in an
increasing multitude of helpless victims.
1.3 The lack of laws or the failure to apply existing ones
foster the sexual exploitation of children, increasing drug addiction and
Single motherhood as well as low family wages oblige young
mothers to seek work.
Abandoned children roam the streets while other children are
abandoned at home.
Violence against women and children is rising. The practice
and legalisation of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia (against the aged, the
terminally ill, the handicapped) strike at the very heart of the family,
menacing today's families with an encroaching culture of death.
1.4 For a great part of the families of the world, their
situation of extreme poverty, indeed of misery, is alarming and this situation
hinders the normal development of the family community. Economic
underdevelopment strikes families’ possibilities in the areas of housing,
education, hygiene, etc. The economic causes of suffering in the family cannot
be ignored. In economic policies, seeking situations which will help families is
an urgent priority. The problem of work outside the family, to which many women
are obliged, has great weight along with their great difficulties in having and
raising children and in finding time for family relationships and dialogue.
On the other hand, family breakdown is a major cause of
poverty in many societies. In fact most of the world's poor are women and
children, who are often exploited in their poverty.
1.5 The family is under attack in many nations in what
amounts to a war waged on the family at international and national levels. In
this decade, at United Nations Conferences, we have seen attempts to
"deconstruct" the family, so that the very meaning of "marriage", "family" and
"motherhood" is now contested. A false opposition has been set up between the
rights of the family as a whole comprehensive unit, and the rights of the
individual family members, particularly by opposing the rights of children and
Spurious "sexual rights" and "reproductive rights" are being
promoted in the name of freedom, in an individualistic vision without any
responsibilities and ties with the family, while in fact, these "rights" are
mainly in the service of abortion and population control. The Church has warned
about the risks involved in these attitudes.
1.6 Falling birth rates combined with rising numbers of
dependent elderly people are producing an economic crisis and tensions between
the generations. Elders are marginalised; cultural traditions are lost and the
social fabric is weakened.
1.7 In some countries population growth is still high often
in situations currently without adequate economic and social resources. The
greatest problem, however, is when children are born into such situations
without the protection of constituted families.
1.8 Based on discredited scientific theories, a kind of
feminism and a misguided environmentalism, a well-funded anti-family mentality
and an anti-life ideology are being promoted at government levels by
organisations and individuals who are often not democratically accountable. Thus
the family is affected by new totalitarian tendencies.
As an effect of the lack of truth and respect for the natural
law, interpretations are growing of "gender" whereby sexual identity is
attributed to social and cultural factors. Moreover, proposals and even
recommendations are being made in the legislative area which harm the very
conception of the family as a community of life and love of a man and a woman
open to life.
There are legitimate forms of feminism which seek to defend
women's dignity in the family but without severing women's family bonds, also as
daughters and sisters, or running into the risky pre-conception that family
bonds, especially motherhood, are a kind of servitude.
1.9 In societies, especially rich societies, where
consumerism and materialism have replaced human virtues, and where culture and
education are "values free", the person is actually reduced to an object to be
used. "Liberated" from the bonds of family and society, the lone individual,
victim of a new form of alienation, is rendered vulnerable to all forms of
2. Nonetheless, in the face of all these challenges, many
families are flourishing and the Catholic Church is committed to promoting their
rights and their well-being. Although we recognise the difficulties which
families are going through, they are like the pilgrim Church, the Church "amid
the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God" (Lumen Gentium,
8). We confidently proclaim that, in spite of unprecedented pressures, the
family is and always will be a gift, a commitment and the hope for humanity!
2. THE FAMILY AS GIFT
Each day it is being discovered more and more that there is
an anthropological conception at the basis of the family, also as a necessary
reaction to the widespread crisis related to conceptual confusion (cf.
Gratissimam Sane, 8ss). The truth about man, the image of God, and about the
family, that is reached by human wisdom is enriched and deepened by the faith.
With gratitude to the Lord, we proclaim some gifts of the
2.1 The family is the gift of God the Creator, his
original project. The human person is lord of creation, but between man and
woman the original relationship is not one of dominion but of self-giving and
mutual service and in this way they become co-creators with God in the
transmission of life. Thus the family is the fundamental gift to humanity. It is
the first, natural, living cell of society, on which all other communities and
societies are based and the first, living cell of the Church.
2.2 Family life is based on this mutual self-giving
between husband and wife in marriage. The human person was created for
self-giving love in God's original project, which requires coherent fidelity in
the married love and the good of the whole spouse and invests both bodily and
spiritual expression with dignity in a deep, marital friendship, as indicated in
the Biblical term una caro (Genesis
2.3 The family has received the gift of transmitting human
life - motherhood and fatherhood, as the fruit of this love. Motherhood and
fatherhood are blessed relationships not only with regard to the children but
also for the mother and father themselves. He is father through the motherhood
of his wife; she is mother through the fatherhood of her husband. The children
are the most precious gift above all for the parents (cf. Gaudium et Spes,
To separate the gift of life from the total conjugal
love means impoverishing the very essence and meaning of the conjugal community.
2.4 Each child, each person, is a gift from God,
created by God in his own image with innate dignity and rights from the very
moment of conception until natural death. This inviolable dignity does not
permit any graduality, as if there were some "qualities" of life which must be
respected and others not. In fact the human person is harmed when he or she is
set aside for any reason.
2.5 Family life is a daily gift that requires love,
patience and sacrifice. But in this gift each day, even in its simple unfolding,
there are dynamics of transcendence and decisive importance in formation, such
as personalisation" or growth in humanity. It is a gift that binds the different
generations in an endless chain of reciprocity and solidarity. It is the best
school of humanity where the mutual gift of the parents pervades the whole home.
Thus new members arise who are mature, respectful of others, grateful for
solidarity that helps them live in charity.
2.6 The family is thus a necessary gift to society, to
the whole of humanity. In this first school of the virtues, we learn respect for
others, mutual aid and self-restraint. For this reason, the preceding Congress
in Rome, with the theme, "The Family: Heart of the Civilisation of Love",
urged us to build, starting from the family, the civilisation of love.
2.7 The family itself is a gift for the Church in and for
the New Evangelization. The Christian family reveals the presence of the
Saviour in the world and the nature of the Church, through love, generous
transmission of life, unity and fidelity of the couple as through the
co-operation of all its members (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48).
3. THE FAMILY AS COMMITMENT
God's gifts entail responsibilities; we therefore acknowledge
the following commitments.
3.1 The family epitomises and requires mutual commitment. We
call on family members to reflect on and renew this commitment to one another,
to find time to be together, to communicate, to trust and to pray together.
3.2 The first commitment is marriage itself. This is closely
connected with a well conceived conjugal spirituality which is not intimist or
closed but rather open to the full duties towards others in society. The spouses
must rededicate themselves to one another and rediscover communication and
mutual forgiveness. A positive sign of reaction is seen in movements aimed at
promoting marital fidelity and openness to life.
We call on governments to legislate in support of binding
marriage as a necessary value for the whole society.
On a conceptual level, in pastoral care, life, in its
integral conception (life that is generated and welcomed; life that is
integrally educated) is bound to the family and is part of the raison d’être
of the conjugal community. The family in conjugal love and for life has a
decisive importance (cf. EV, 92) in forming the culture of life. Any separation
of the unity of life within the family represents a risk which those conspiring
against the family and life will take advantage of.
3.3 The family is the "sanctuary of life". Its commitment to
the protection and nurturing of life from the moment of conception is fulfilled
through parenthood which is truly responsible. A culture that respects nature
must begin by respecting the human person, who is at the heart of nature in a
true "human ecology" (Centesimus Annus, 38).
We denounce all public or private invasions of this sanctuary
of love and life. We particularly call attention to new threats to procreation
and human life especially mass sterilisation campaigns, which often deceive and
exploit the poor.
3.4 We especially denounce programmes of "emergency
contraception" being promoted among refugee women. This is in fact the
promotion of abortion by a consortium of UN agencies and population-control
groups. This is a great injustice to families who find themselves in tragic
circumstances and involves great risks for the women’s health.
3.5 More than ever the family needs to be committed to the
unborn, the conceived, the "nasciturus". The welcome and protection of
the weakest members of the human species manifest the quality and bonds of the
family. We call for legal and social protection of the personhood of the unborn.
Families must be vigilant regarding "chemical warfare" (cf.
CA, 39), chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines in the inhuman war
of abortion (abortifacients) (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 13), and they must be
prepared to reject new technologies that threaten the very concept of
parenthood, such as the manipulation of gametes and cloning.
3.6 The commitment of youth to the culture of life must
become a priority at all levels, beginning with education for life in the home
and parish. Respect for young women as the future bearers of life should be
promoted in all contexts and the abandonment of mothers by men must be censured.
3.7 We call for solidarity with families whose members are
exposed to or struggling with drug addiction, for new strategies to support
them, as well as greater support for movements committed to integrating those
who suffer back into the family and society. The family is of central importance
in the phenomenon of drug dependency both as a cause when it does not fully form
persons, in its prevention, and also in liberation from this drama by means of
values that give meaning to life. All forms of liberalisation of drugs
represent a threat to the family (cf. "Liberalizzazione della droga? Una
riflessione pastorale del Pontificio Consiglio per la Famiglia",
L’Osservatore Romano, January 22, 1997, p. 7).
3.8 The parents' commitment to educate their children brings
responsibilities along with it. But parents have the right to choose the kind of
education they want for their children, which makes it possible to speak, as St.
Thomas does, about families as the "spiritual uterus" (cf. S. Th. II-II, 10,
10). We reject the imposition of ideology on children, through programmes,
models and methods which rob the parents of their right to be agents of
3.9 Providing an authentic education in human love and
sexuality is the right and duty first of all of parents, to be carried out in
the home, supported where necessary by others, such as in schools, but always
under parental supervision and control. We recommend dissemination of the
document by the Pontifical Council for the Family, "The Truth and Meaning of
Human Sexuality", which is closely connected with the "Vademecum for
Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life".
Parents must organise to resist efforts by the State, the media or population
control groups that present erroneous models of sex education which corrupt
3.10 Society must be committed to the family, but this can
only be achieved once families themselves become the protagonists of family
politics. Political action on behalf of families should be aimed at
supporting child-raising families, with special attention to large families, in
every area of social life.
We denounce legislation which discriminates against families
or which interferes in family life, in areas such as education, taxation,
employment, health care, housing etc. (cf. Charter of the Rights of the
3.11 Commitment to poor families and abandoned children must
be a social and political priority. Family poverty strikes women and children
first. We call for justice for all families, but especially for solidarity with
poor families and legislation to facilitate the adoption of children. Special
attention should be given in the adoption of children to the principle of the
"higher good" of children, without neglecting the rights of the natural parents.
We denounce projects to control the family size of the poor,
with ideological projections influenced by Neo-Malthusianism, including refugee
families and families under occupation. What these families really need is
primary health care, education, effective legal protection, decent living
conditions and economic justice. Large families should be helped and not
represent the object of discrimination. The Popes invite opening up the banquet
tables: "You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of
mankind, and not rather favour an artificial control of birth, which would be
irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life"
[Pope Paul VI, Address to the United Nations Assembly, 6; AAS 57
(1965), p. 883]. Serious knowledge about demographic trends is needed to avoid
falling into the trap of over-population myths.
Moreover, we call on politicians and legislators to aid large
families, especially in situations where the population is decreasing.
3.12 We call on politicians, legislators, economists, to
commit themselves to build an economy for families, where the human person is
always at the centre. Subsidiarity means that the family, not the State, not
large organisations, must be given responsibility in managing and developing its
own economy [cf. "Recommendations of the Meeting ‘The Family and Economy in the
Future of Society’ (Rome, March 6-9, 1996) in Familia et Vita, I, 1/1996,
3.13 Commitment of faith in Jesus Christ binds the family
together in unity, within the greater family of the Church.
We call on the clergy to build up the spiritual family of the
Church through parish ministry to families, which includes teaching and
preaching on the dignity of human life, marriage and the family. We recommend
the systematic preparation of seminarians and the ongoing formation of clergy
for the priority of family pastoral care in the parish and diocese.
In pastoral action, we recommend developing an adequate
organisation of the Episcopal Commissions for the Family and Life, which already
exist in the great majority of the Episcopal Conferences, and in the
organisation of the dioceses, so that there will be concerted action in this
very important area. As the Holy Father stressed in his address to our Congress,
"It is necessary to undertake a pastoral ministry in which the central truths
of the faith radiate their own evangelising power in the various areas of life,
especially in that of the family" (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, N.
42, October 15, 1997, p. 4).
The pastoral care of children is an urgent matter. After
careful study of the rights of children, we ask for in-depth action which will
protect this great hope for new humanity.
3.14 A deeper spirituality of the family is needed to enrich
the mutual commitment to Christ of all members of the community of life and
4. THE FAMILY AS HOPE FOR HUMANITY
4.1 In these years leading to the Third Millennium, we echo
the words of Pope John Paul II at the First World Meeting in Rome, 1994,
"Families, you are gaudium et spes, joy and hope!"
4.2 Families offer the best hope for the plight of abandoned
children, especially those on the streets of our great cities. We welcome
movements that facilitate adoption and develop family models of care for these
children. Moreover, we commend the generosity of families that adopt handicapped
4.3 Hope for poor families can be offered through the
education of women, health care for children, but above all by more prosperous
families who make a "preferential option for the poor" and for the
4.4 We welcome the rapid advances in modern natural methods
of regulating fertility as a pedagogy of love when there are serious reasons to
distance births. We hope that these methods can be more widely spread around the
4.5 The various youth movements for life and the family are a
great sign of hope for the world, not as the Church of tomorrow, but as an
active force in the Church of today.
The apostolic movements for the family and life must
increasingly integrate young people for their own, permanent invigoration.
4.6 We ask the movements to work together in harmony with the
parishes in order to evangelise families and to form them in their own role of
evangelization. Deeper understanding of the sacrament of marriage is enriching
the life of faith and sacraments in many families today. In this regard, we
strongly recommend the document of the Pontifical Council for the Family, "Preparation
for the Sacrament of Marriage".
4.7 We rejoice in the hope offered to broken families,
especially single parents, through an evangelization that welcomes them into the
community of the parish and recognises that all families can evangelise, even in
their brokenness. Appropriate pastoral ways should be sought to help divorced
persons who have remarried who in any case are and remain members of the Church.
4.8 We hope for more ecumenical and inter-religious
co-operation on family and human life issues, such as in the Inter-religious
Colloquium on "Marriage and the Family in Today’s World" (Rome, September 21-25,
1994) (See proceedings Marriage and the Family in Today’s World, Rome
4.9 We express our concern for the serious problem,
particularly in some areas, of the family and the spread of sects (cf. La
acción evangelizadora de la familia ante el desafío de las sectas, Santafé
de Bogotá). We hope in the family’s evangelising role in the face of this
4.10 The hope of a New Evangelization, by and for families is
based on unity of faith and fidelity to the Church. Thus the Gospel of Christ,
the good news of the family, will resound to the ends of the earth.
We express our heartfelt thanks to the Holy Father John Paul
II for his tireless efforts in favour of the family in the Church and society
and in support of human life in all situations.
May the Holy Spirit bring a renewal of our hearts as we
prepare for the Third Millennium! Let us joyfully commit ourselves to work for a
new era for families, strengthened by the Lord of Life who is the Lord of the
We invoke the special protection of Our Lady, Regina
who bore the Saviour of the world in her womb.[Return to top]