I Will Draw All People to Myself:
A Theological Reflection on the Significance of the Second World
Gathering of Families with the Holy Father.
Fr. Frank Pavone
Pontifical Council for the Family
October 4-5, 1997 will see a great gathering of families from throughout the
world with the Holy Father in Rio de Janeiro. It will be a festive gathering,
rooted in a common reflection on the Word of God and in the celebration of the
Holy Eucharist. Its theme will be "The Family: Gift and Commitment, Hope for
Some of the benefits of such a gathering are obvious from the start. There is
mutual encouragement when families hear the testimony of other families about
how they dealt with trials or grew in faith. There is a renewal in one's sense
of the Church by being in the presence of the Holy Father. The memories of a
pilgrimage such as this can strengthen individuals and families when more
difficult moments come.
Yet there is a more profound meaning and purpose for a gathering like this.
It is a meaning drawn from the very sources of revelation about what the family
is and, and reflected in the three dimensions of the Rio theme: gift,
commitment, and hope.
The first aspect of the theme reminds us that the family is a gift. It is not
a mere human creation, but begins with God's initiative. Because He has spoken,
we cannot change the message. Because He creates the family, we cannot refashion
it at whim. Because His word is the truth, we can be liberated from the divisive
forces of error pulling us in so many contradictory directions. An attentive
hearing of God's word about the family will therefore mark the events of Rio.
The very unity of the family is a gift, and not a merely human achievement.
God's saving activity is expressed in Scripture as a "bringing together." "As a
shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so
will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were
scattered...and bring them back to their own country" (Ezekiel 34:12-13). St.
John tells us that Jesus "was going to die for the nation, and not only for the
nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (Jn.11: 52).
"And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself" (Jn.12:
Sin scatters, grace unites. In divorce or various forms of marital
infidelity, for example, the relationship of husband and wife is disrupted,
causing, in turn, disruption in other family relationships. In abortion and
other forms of disregard for the rights of children, the bond of parents to
children is disrupted. The examples can be multiplied. In Rio, the families
present, and those joined with them in spirit, will pray anew for the gift of
Receiving such a gift in turn requires a commitment, the second major point
of the theme of Rio. This commitment, simply put, is the response of love. The
meaning of this word, which is so misused, abused, and confused, is discovered
at the cross. By going to the cross, Christ demonstrated the love of God (See
Rom. 5:8). He showed that love means self-giving. It means pushing ourselves out
of the way so that others may have life, rather than pushing others out of the
way so that we may live as we please. So many evils that destroy the family
derive from the attitude that we can sacrifice another person for the good of
ourselves. The cross shows us that love means we sacrifice ourselves for the
good of the other person.
In short, we live the words by which Christ gave us the Eucharist. Strangely,
those who promote philosophies and lifestyles contrary to the good of the family
use these very same words: This is my body. "This is my body," some will say,
"so I can do what I want, whether it is free sex, abortion, or anything else.
It's my body and I will live as I please." But what does our Lord say? "This is
my body, given up for you." He does not cling to His body so that others die;
rather, He gives it away so that others may live. We do the same, thanks to the
grace given to us in the Eucharist, which will be the culminating event of the
When families live in this way, the world has hope. The third dimension of
the Rio theme, and its climax, is hope. This hope will be celebrated in the
presence of the Vicar of Christ, who in his own ministry calls on the world not
to be afraid to hope! Sins against life and family are so often sins of despair.
But the task of our day and the nature of our mission as the People of Life is
to say, "Have hope! The power of life is stronger than death. The power of live
is stronger than hate. The power of the family is stronger than all the forces
which threaten it!" May the Second World Meeting of Families with the Holy
Father in Rio de Janeiro kindle this hope in every human heart.
Pontifical Council for the Family