by Margo Borders
Millions of Americans followed Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States last week. Thousands of spectators lined the streets to greet him and listen to his addresses to the country in Washington D.C, New York City, and Philadelphia. The pope remarked on many topics, ranging from poverty and climate change to immigration and the dignity of human life. A message present in all of his communication, however, was the theme of the family.
The main highlight of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States was attending the World Meeting of Families, held in Philadelphia this year. The pope expressed early in his trip that the “family
should be a recurrent theme” throughout his visit. With the next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family coming up this fall, the importance of the family is a topic that the pope
constantly touches on. He specifically addressed the importance of the family in America, during his visit to Congress, when he remarked on how essential the family has been to the building of
Pope Francis recognizes the threat on family in our culture today, saying in his address to Congress that, “I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.” He goes on to extend this concern to the youth of this country, who undergo so much “violence, abuse and despair” in today’s world, and thus are dissuaded from starting families. By addressing the needs of youth, we are addressing the fundamental threats on family life.
The World Meeting of Families (WMOF), founded by Pope St. John Paul II as the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families, comes together every three years in order to identify major concerns for the family, and to create a space where families can talk about how they are living their faith in a world that is often hostile to family life. The conference creates a preparatory document of catechesis for each meeting that, according to the WMOF website, is “a collection of what Catholics believe about human purpose, marriage, and the family.” The document for 2015 highlights ten themes of the family, such as “the mission of love,” “the meaning of human sexuality,” and “all love bears fruit.”
One theme is particularly striking for our modern culture: that the family is a “home for the wounded heart.” Pope Francis constantly emphasizes this idea that the family, as the core of humanity, is a source of comfort, mercy, and forgiveness. The Church, in one sense, is like a family that should be open to all, particularly the marginalized and forgotten. The family unit, in all its various shapes and sizes, is the most direct and best way to experience this love, the kind of love that emulates God’s love.
The World Meeting of Families, and Pope Francis’ involvement in the conference, is a testament to the power of the family. Our faith is shared with us on its most basic and fundamental level by our families and community. While in Philadelphia, Pope Francis commented that the Church itself would not exist without the family. The family, as the fundamental unit of love from which our faith pours out to others, serves as our source of refuge in a world that often forgets the power of the family.
The family’s vital necessity to culture, society, and the Church itself makes it something on which to redirect our focus. In Philadelphia, the pope called us to “reflect on our ministry to families, to couples preparing for marriage, and to our young people,” as well as pray for the forthcoming Synod on the Family. It is worth asking ourselves how we can make family, or the “domestic church,” the foundation of our faith? How can we live our vocational call as members of the Body of Christ within our nuclear family, as well as in the larger family of believers?
Finally, Pope Francis epitomized why the Church focuses on the family when he said in an interview during World Youth Day in Brazil, “Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”