(Saturday, 8 October 1994)



1.       Dear Families, dear Brothers and Sisters who have come from over a hundred different countries for this important gathering on the occasion of the Year of the Family!


“Grace to you and peace from God, our Father!" (Col 1:2).


Enclosed as it were in a wide embrace by this solemn colonnade, we are experiencing this evening an intense moment of ecclesial communion. Here we are aware, more vitally and strongly, of the presence of Christ, the Bridegroom, ever close to the Church his Bride. He enlightens you with his light and warms you with his love.


It is a beautiful and encouraging moment also for the Pope!


2.       I have listened with great attention to the testimonies and reflections which have just been presented. I am grateful to Cardinal Lopez Trujillo for his words and for the work which he and his collaborators have done in order to make this celebration a reality. I thank every one of you for your fervent, numerous and representative presence here.


This event crowns a year of special dedication to the family, a year which unfortunately has also revealed how many threats are directed against the very foundations of what is the basic cell of society. Yes, the family is seriously threatened! And how could the Church, expert in humanity and desiring the true good of society, not be concerned about this?


From the beginning Christianity has given particular attention to the family in order to bring it back to Cod's original design. The New Testament not only reproposes the unity and indissolubility of marriage but confers on it, when it is celebrated between Christians, a deeper significance, thanks to its elevation to the dignity of a sacrament. Thus the family becomes not only the basic cell of society but also of the Church herself, as testified to by the Fathers when they gave it the significant title of "domestic church".


The history of the Church is full of interventions in favour of the family. These have become more numerous in our own times, also in order to meet the growing crisis of this institution. It fell to the Council to bring together the legacy of the whole preceding magisterium, leaving us, especially in Gaudium et Spes, memorable pages on the theme of "fostering the dignity of marriage and the family" (Part II, ch. I, Nos. 47-52). This marked the beginning of a new period of interventions by the Church on the subject.



One of the unfading merits of Paul VI is that of having given the Church the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), which in its day was not understood in all its importance but which, with the passage of time, has come to reveal all its prophetic content. In that document the great Pontiff indicated the criteria for preserving the love of a couple from the danger of hedonistic selfishness which, in not a few parts of the world, is tending to lessen the vitality of families and render marriages almost sterile. In his other historic Encyclical Populorum Progressio, he spoke for the developing peoples of the world, inviting the richer countries to follow a policy of true solidarity, a far cry from the deceptive form of neo-colonialism which imposes projects of the systematic limitation of births.


The family was also dealt with by the 1980 Synod of Bishops, from which came the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, which introduced an organized context for the pastoral care of the family as a priority and a foundation of the new evangelization. There is also a logical connection between that document and the 1983 Charter of the Rights of the Family.


I would also like to recall here my own catecheses on this subject, developed in a series of Wednesday General Audiences and collected in a book called "Male and Female He Created Them". In addition, there have been many other statements on various occasions, and most recently the Letter to Families, with which I knocked on the door of every home to proclaim the "Gospel of the family", well aware that the family is the first and most important way of the Church (No.1).


3.       The attention given to the institution of the family has caused the Church in recent years to create new structures to serve the family.


On 13 March 1981, a very significant date, the Pontifical Council for the Family was created, and then, on the academic level, the Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.  I have been encouraged to promote such institutions also by the experiences which marked my activity as priest and Bishop in Cracow, where I always gave special attention to youth and to families. It is precisely from those experiences that I realized the indispensable need for a profound intellectual and theological formation in this area in order to develop an adequate ethical approach to the value of our bodily reality, to the meaning of marriage and family, and to the question of responsible parenthood.


How important this is has come to light especially in the current year 1994, which, at the initiative of the United Nations Organization, has been dedicated to the Family.  A certain tendency which emerged at the recent Cairo Conference on "Population and Development" and at other meetings held in recent months, as well as certain attempts in seats of government to distort the meaning of the family by depriving it of its natural reference to marriage, have demonstrated how necessary the steps taken by the Church are in support of the family and its indispensable role in society.


4.       Thanks to the concerted action of Bishops and informed lay people, we have faced numerous obstacles and misunderstandings, if only to offer this witness of love, which has emphasized the unbreakable bond of solidarity which exists between Church and family. But the task which awaits us is certainly still great. And you, dear families, are here also in order to take on this further commitment, in this decisive area which requires the vigilant and responsible participation not only of Christians but of the whole of society.


We are in fact convinced that society cannot do without the institution of the family for the simple reason that society itself arises from families and draws its solidity from families.


Faced with the cultural and social decay presently taking place, in the presence of the spread of ills such as violence, drugs and organized crime, what better guarantee of prevention and liberation is there than a united family, morally healthy and socially involved? It is in families like these that people are trained in the virtues and in the social values of solidarity, openness, loyalty, respect for others and their dignity.


5.       Allow me, therefore, my dear Brothers and Sisters, to express my immense joy at seeing you here in such great numbers in order to affirm, in the name also of so many other families throughout the world, your wish to live as faithful followers of Christ, even when this entails sacrifice and self-denial.  Never before has the heroism of everyday life been required of believers as it is today, by going against the current with regard to the world's way of thinking in order to proclaim and witness to the Gospel of hope in all circumstances.


May the Lord bless the efforts at pastoral renewal and at cultural and social awakening which you are making in your nations in close cooperation with your Pastors and in communion with the universal Church. Continue your iourney along this road.


After the Year of the Redemption (1983) and the Marian Year (1987-1988), this Year of the Family certainly represents an important stage in the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. God willing, at the end of this Year of the Family, as one of its most precious fruits and as a programme for the future, I will publish the already announced Encyclical on life.


To you, Families, I repeat: Be not afraid! The Lord is calling you to become leaders of a new season of hope in the Christian community and in the world. "The family is the centre and the heart of the civilization of love" (Letter to Families, 13).


6.       Dear married couples! Dear parents! As you well know, the communion of man and woman in marriage corresponds to the specific requirements of human nature. At the same time, it is a reflection of God's goodness, which becomes fatherhood and motherhood.  Sacramental grace - first in Baptism and Confirmation, then later in Matrimony has poured a fresh and powerful wave of supernatural love into your hearts. It is love which flows from the inner depths of the Blessed Trinity, of which the human family is an eloquent and living image.


This is a supernatural reality which helps you to sanctify your joys, to face hardships and sufferings, and to triumph over difficulties and moments of fatigue.


In a word, it is a source of sanctification for you, and a source of strength for self-giving.


It grows by constant prayer and above all by your sharing in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of the Eucharist.


7.       Strengthened by this supernatural help, be ever ready, dear families, to account for the hope that is within you (cf. 1 Pt 3:15).


May you always be examples of openness, dedication and generosity. Preserve, assist and promote the life of every person, especially the weak, the sick, and the handicapped. Bear witness to love for life and sow that love abundantly. Be builders of the culture of life and the civilization of love.


Let this be the case above all in your task of raising your children. Let your relationship with them be marked by open, frank and understanding dialogue. This will help them to accept their own responsibilities in the family and society.


And you, boys and girls, be aware of your "mission" as sons and daughters:

love your parents, share with them your refreshing vitality, your joy and your enthusiasm.


8.       In the Church and in society, now is the hour of the family. Families are called to play a primary role in the task of the new evangelization.  From the heart of families devoted to prayer, to the apostolate and to the Church's life there will develop genuine vocations not only for the formation of other families, but also for the life of special consecration whose beauty and mission is being described during these very days by the Synod of Bishops.


The Second Vatican Council stressed the principle of the universal call to holiness. Holiness is for everyone! Today more than ever the Church needs holy lay people and holy families.


It is significant that we wished to open the Year of the Family in Nazareth, and to live these months as a pilgrimage "towards that place of grace which has become the Shrine of the Holy Family in the history of humanity" (cf. Letter to Families, 23).


Nazareth reminds us that the Holy Family is the beginning of so many other holy families.


To the Family of Nazareth I once again entrust the families of the whole world. May Mary keep watch over all of them with her maternal gaze, so that a generation of new families, rich in God's Spirit, will hasten the coming of the civilization of love, so necessary and so greatly desired, as humanity prepares to cross the threshold of the Third Christian Millennium.



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