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On the Relationship Between the Church and the Family

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Vatican City (ZENIT) -- Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father's address during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

A few days ago the Synod of Bishops began on the theme "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World." The family that follows the way of the Lord is fundamentally witnessing the love of God and merits, therefore, all the dedication of which the Church is capable. The Synod is called to interpret for today this solicitude and care of the Church. We accompany the Synodal course first of all with our prayer and our attention. And in this period, the catecheses will be reflections inspired by some aspects of the relation -- which we can certainly say is indissoluble! -- between the Church and the family, with the horizon open to the good of the entire human community.

A careful look at the daily life of the men and women of today shows immediately the need there is everywhere for a robust injection of family spirit. In fact, the style of relations -- civil, economic, juridical, professional, of citizenship -- seems very rational, formal, organized but also very "dehydrated," arid, anonymous. At times it becomes unbearable. Although it wishes to be inclusive in its ways, in reality it abandons an increasingly greater number of people to loneliness and rejection.

This is why the family opens for the whole society a much more human prospect: it opens children's eyes to life -- and not only their sight but also all the other senses -- representing a vision of human relation built on the free covenant of love. The family introduces to this need the bonds of fidelity, sincerity, trust, cooperation, respect; it encourages to project a habitable world and to believe in relations of trust, even in difficult conditions; it teaches to honor the word given, respect of individual persons, the sharing of personal and other limitations. And we are all aware of the irreplaceable family care for the smallest, most vulnerable, most wounded members and even for the most damaged in the conduct of their life. Whoever practices these attitudes in society, has assimilated them from the family spirit, certainly not from competition and the desire for self-fulfilment.

Well, despite knowing all this, the family is not given due weight -- and recognition and support -- in the political and economic organization of contemporary society. I would like to say more: not only does the family not have adequate recognition, but it no longer generates learning! Sometimes it could be said that, with all its science and its technology, modern society is not yet able to translate this knowledge into better ways of civil coexistence. Not only is the organization of common life increasingly hindered by a bureaucracy that is altogether foreign to fundamental human bonds, but, in fact, the social and political custom often shows signs of degradation -- aggressiveness, vulgarity, contempt ... --, which are well below the threshold of even minimal family education. In this situation, the opposite extremes of this brutalization of relations -- namely technocratic obtuseness and amoral familism -- unite and nourish one another. This is a paradox.

On this precise point, the Church singles out today the historic meaning of her mission in regard to the family and genuine family spirit: beginning with a careful revision of life, which concerns herself. It could be said that "family spirit" is a constitutional charter for the Church: so must Christianity appear and so must it be. It is written in clear letters: "You who were far off -- says Saint Paul -- [...] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19). The Church is and must be the family of God.

When Jesus called Peter to follow him, he told him that he would make him a "fisher of men", and for this, a new type of nets is needed. We could say that today families are one of the most important nets for the mission of Peter and of the Church. This is not a net that makes us prisoners. On the contrary, it frees from the evil waters of abandonment and indifference, which drown many human beings in the sea of loneliness and indifference. Families know well the dignity of feeling themselves children and not slaves or strangers, or just a number of an identity card.

From here, from the family, Jesus begins again his passage among human beings, to persuade them that God has not forgotten them. From here Peter gets the vigor for his ministry. From here, obeying the word of the Master, the Church goes out to fish in the deep certain that, if this happens, the fishing will be miraculous. May the enthusiasm of the Synod Fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, foster the impetus of a Church that abandons the old nets and returns to fish trusting in the word of her Lord. Let us pray intensely for this! As for the rest, Christ has promised and encourages us: if even evil fathers do not refuse bread to their hungry children, just think if God will not give the Spirit to those that -- though imperfect as they are -- asked for it with impassioned insistence (cf. Luke 11:9-13)! Thank you!

Pope Francis is Pope of the Catholic Church since March 13, 2013.

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