Address of Papal Legate to the Sixth World Meeting of Families

Author: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Address of Papal Legate to the Sixth World Meeting of Families

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

Peace and justice come to life in the family, the first champion of human rights

On Friday, 16 January [2009], Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., Secretary of State, spoke at the Theological-Pastoral Congress of the Sixth World Meeting of Families in Mexico City, Mexico. Representing the Pope as his Legate, the Cardinal's discourse expounded on the meeting's theme, "The family, teacher of human and Christian values". The following is a translation of his discourse, which was given in Spanish.

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Esteemed Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

I am glad to be able to conclude this Theological-Pastoral Congress in the context of the Sixth World Meeting of Families, whose theme proposed by Pope Benedict XVI, "The family, teacher of human and Christian values", has been analyzed.

I greet Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City, and also the Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious and families who have come from various parts of the world.

As Papal Legate, I wish to be the spokesman who delivers the message that the family is the hope and good news for society and for the Church. Human history and the history of humanity's salvation flow through the family.

Among the many paths the Church takes to save and serve man, "the family is the first and the most important"1. The family is not only the axis of man's personal life but also the most important environment and appropriate context in which to live.

The purpose of my discourse is to draw attention to the fact that the family is the most appropriate institution for the transmission of these two values, justice and peace. They are special because in them converge both the individual and social dimensions of the human person that have been thoroughly examined in the past few days.

I shall proceed in this way: after a brief analysis of the current situation, I shall endeavour to show how and why the family is the principle realization of a person's sociability. Secondly, I will analyze the reciprocal relations between society and the family, demonstrating how it is only in this appropriate context that the dynamism of the value of justice and authentic peace are possible. I shall conclude by affirming that only a family founded on a monogamous and indissoluble marriage can faithfully transmit these values.

Present historical context

Does the family have anything to offer at the beginning of the third millennium? Could one dispense with the family or is it a permanent reality with an innate value?

History shows that the family's contribution to society and to the Church is both considerable and good. It makes possible the very life of society, as well as the incarnation of the Body of Christ throughout the centuries.

Historically speaking, when the person, marriage or family is damaged, the whole of created reality is affected. The specificity of the present situation stems from the globalization of problems that in one way or another concern all the continents.

We are witnessing numerous conflicts that are threatening to destabilize entire regions. In addition the recent and profound economic crisis is having a strong impact throughout the world.

If what I have just said is worrying, the individualistic and nihilistic diagnosis which is expressed in an exacerbated anthropological pessimism is even more serious. All this is perceptible in vast areas of our planet where widespread malaise and lack of confidence are being felt by society and shown by statistics.

It is impossible to overlook the great demographic winter that is gravely threatening entire societies, the lack of meaning in the lives of so many young victims of alcohol and drugs and the extreme violence and exploitation to which we see women and children subjected today, the trafficking of organs and sex that destroys the human person and the neglect of so many sick and elderly people who are deprived of any assistance with which to face the last years of their lives.

The crisis of the educational system in many nations that are incapable of transmitting integral knowledge and the political and economic instability that burdens many of the developing countries also deserve mention.

In the whole of this description there is a common denominator: injustice, the lack or absence of rights. Human rights, which derive from the personal nature of being, in both the individual and social aspects of the person, have been trampled upon, diminished or even eliminated. Exasperated individualism creates a replica of the selfishness which, as in the story of Vulcan, is capable of devouring its own children.

Hence relativism, hedonism and utilitarianism, with their various expressions and combinations, have generated among other things a commercialization of the whole of Creation and of the human person, its centre and its summit (cf. Gaudium et spes, n.12). Against this backdrop there are two alternatives: either the deterioration of the situation throughout the planet, reaching limits as yet unknown, or its resolution by applying an appropriate remedy. The latter must be prepared with a healthy anthropology, one that appropriately revives the relations that have deteriorated in every sphere. Only justice imbued with love will be capable of restoring dignity to the person and to the whole of Creation.

In this way the civilization of love that was the great passion of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI may become reality. Moreover the family alone, a community of life and love, is in a condition to regenerate society through justice and peace because in the family love presides over all things. In love, the family finds its origins and its purpose. And this family love is what can best teach values.

Love by its very nature propagates itself. Therefore the family is like a nursery garden in which seeds of justice and peace are cultivated which will transform, perhaps with difficulty, the mass of all Creation.

It is consequently clear that the best investment for governments will be to help, protect and support the family, since it is the institution without which society cannot survive. That so many families can be seen to carry out faithfully the task entrusted to them despite the existing adversities is also a cause of hope.

Ever more services are being established in favour of the family. It should be remembered above all that fidelity to its mission has a multiplying effect; the truth about the family, proclaimed and lived, has a constant resonance in the human heart. For this reason let us once again say to families, to very family: "Family, become what you 'are'".2

Family and Society

The family as the context and fullest expression of the person is not the product of one epoch but rather a patrimony of all ages and civilizations. The family is far more than a legal, social or financial unity, because to speak of the family is to speak of life — of the transmission of values, of education, of solidarity, of stability, of the future and ultimately, of love.3 The family is a wise institution of the Creator in which the original vocation of the person to interpersonal communion is realized through the sincere gift of self.

The family is the first and original cell of society. In it both the man and the woman live with full meaning their differentiation and complementarity from which the first interpersonal relationship is born. In this sense marriage is the foundation of natural society. This society is called to fulfil itself by generating children: the spousal communion is at the origin of the family.

The family is the original cell of society because in it the person is affirmed for the first time as a person, for himself and freely. He is called to play a role in society similar to that of the cell in the organism.

The ethical quality of society is linked to the family. It develops ethically to the extent that it lets itself be modelled by all that constitutes the good of the family.

Not all forms of coexistence serve and contribute to achieving authentic sociability. Necessarily the family must be a family; it is worth noting that its history should develop as a community of life and love in which each of its members is appreciated in his uniqueness: as husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister.

In this way personal dignity will be fully respected, given that interpersonal relations are lived freely, that is, out of love. This is not achieved merely by living together. The family must be a home in which there is "heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity".4

Thus the family becomes the context in which the true sense of freedom, justice and love can be formed. This must take place: in freedom since only on the basis of freedom is it possible to form responsible people; on the basis of justice, since only in this way is the dignity of others respected; and on the basis of love, since respect for others is ultimately perfected when each one is loved for him or herself.

The family therefore has a specific social function outside the family environment that consists in acting and participating in social life, as a family and because it is a family. However, to contribute to the good of the person — to humanization — and to society's good it is necessary for the family to respect the overall scale of values that make it a community of life and love.

In turn, society must always include among its fundamental tasks the achievement of the common good, which could be described thus: "The common good does not consist in the simple sum of the particular goods of each subject of a social entity. Belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains common, because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future".5

For its part, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, proposing anew the definition of Gaudium et spes (n. 26), summarizes the common good in three purposes or properties as follows:

"First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such... the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person...", and "the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation.

"Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture....

"Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members".6

Dynamism of justice and peace

We said earlier that justice and peace are fundamental elements of the common good that society must promote and that the family can provide or establish, since it is in the family that the gifts of justice and peace are offered which at the same time constitute the family's proper task. Let us pause for a moment to further consider both values and their relationship to each other.7

Peace is one of the values transmitted in both Testaments. It is far more than the absence of war. Peace represents the fullness of life (cf. Mal 2:5). It is an effect of God's Blessing upon his people (cf. Nm 6:26); it produces fruitfulness and well-being (cf. Is 48:18-19) and deep happiness (cf. Pry 12:2o). At the same time, peace is the goal of social coexistence as appears in an extraordinary way in the messianic vision of peace described in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (cf. 2:2-5).

In the New Testament, Jesus says explicitly: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5:9). He not only rejects violence (cf. Mt 26:52; Lk 9:54-55), but goes further, saying: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Lk 6:27-28).

Together with the light that comes from Scripture, the history of thought shows us that the culture of peace presupposes order. The definition of St Augustine and Boethius, taken up by St Thomas Aquinas, defines peace as tranquillity that is born from order.8

In turn, order presupposes impartiality. St Thomas defines order as the arrangement of things in conformity with a reference point. Therefore the "reference point" of the order from which peace stems is justice.

Justice, the condition for peace

Justice is a fundamental value of human life. In addition it is an indispensable reality of human coexistence. Justice must be bound to the structure of each person independently of his time, his age or culture. Together with good and truth, justice constitutes the trilogy of the great values and human realities.

On the contrary, injustice is related to evil and falsehood. Therefore, the fullness of the human being and the improvement of society are in relation to good, truth and justice. Social coexistence thus loses its meaning if evil, error and injustice prevail.

Justice refers us directly to ius (right), and in fact one can speak of justice only if rights exist. For this reason, justice consists in giving to each one his right, what he is due.

The triple distinction between commutative, legal and distributive justice covers all aspects of the person, because it includes his rights as well as his duties as an individual, and at the same time demands and safeguards the rights and duties that derive from his radical sociability, an essential constitutive element of the person. In this regard, justice has been the aspiration and duty of every epoch.

Plato wrote: "And is not the creation of justice the institution of a natural order and government of one by another in the parts of the soul, and the creation of injustice the production of a state of things at variance with the natural order?".9

For its part, Christian tradition supports the undeniable religious dimension of the concepts of justice and just with regard to the human being's conduct before God, and points out the relationship of justice with the social order.

In this context, we can ask ourselves: is there a biblical doctrine that postulates the value of justice in society? The answer is yes. A wealth of testimonies in both the Old and New Testaments ingrain the precept of fulfilling the duties of justice in social coexistence.

Jesus' message contemplates various aspects of the proper coexistence among people, especially in the Synoptics. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in one of its documents, "In the Old Testament, the prophets... keep affirming with particular vigor the requirements of justice and solidarity and the need to pronounce a very severe judgement on the rich who oppress the poor.... Faithfulness to the Covenant cannot be conceived of without the practice of justice. Justice as regards God and justice as regards mankind are inseparable.... These requirements are found once again the New Testament. They are even more radicalized as can be shown in the discourse on the Beatitudes"10.

In our day, the word "justice" is one of the most frequently used terms in social and political life. In many cases it is the "key" or "joker" of political, economic and social declarations in numerous national and international forums. The continuous use and abuse of it by certain ideologies has endowed it with various meanings.

Despite the clarity of the definition of justice, "its own proper" meaning must be correctly interpreted and defended in each case as a primary subject. If this does not happen, justice will be subjected to the arbitration of the powerful of the moment. Indeed it could happen that justice, which should pave the way to peace, might lose its true meaning and actually provoke extreme violence.

Injustice always spawns violence. At the present time social, economic and political injustice is giving rise to many wars, tensions and conflicts. In the face of war, peace, the fruit of justice and solidarity, should be presented.

"Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences. The economically weaker countries, or those still at subsistence level, must be enabled, with the assistance of other peoples and of the international community, to make a contribution of their own to the common good with their treasures of humanity and culture, which otherwise would be lost for ever".11

However, peace is also achieved on the basis of the small things in ordinary life and in each person's own environment. We Christians must travel all of the earth's paths, scattering peace and joy with our words and actions.

No other reality than the family is capable of perseveringly building day after day the peace that results from the manifestation of the inner order of families and also of peoples.

Family: a paradigmatic incarnation between justice and charity

The family is not an accessory and extrinsic structure to the human person. On the contrary, it is the privileged context for the development and growth of the person's personality, in conformity with the needs of the person's constitutive social dimension. "The family, founded on love and enlivened by it, is the place where every person is called to experience, appropriate and participate in that love without which man could not live, and his whole life would be deprived of meaning".12

Hence the value of love, together with that of freedom and justice, has a central place in the family's role in society. In the Christian proposal, charity holds supremacy. Charity includes and incarnates all the virtues since it consists in participation in the life of Christ, the perfect man.

Although it is certain that some differences exist with regard to their specific aim, charity and justice can and must be integrated. To reach this end, and if it is hoped that both virtues complement each other for the resolution of social problems, they must correspond with the following theses:

a) There is no love without justice: charity has the character of an "end", whereas justice functions as the "means". Therefore, since it is impossible to reach an end without the use of means, likewise charity will be lacking in social coexistence if justice (the means) is absent in social life. In observing so many forms of social injustice, we can only conclude that we are still very far from achieving charity.

b) There is no justice if love is lacking: the very doctrine of relations between means and end confirm this thesis, since there is no sense in striving to adopt means (justice) that have no end (charity) in view.

c) The practice of justice is an ongoing condition for charity: a state of justice facilitates permanent charitable relations between individual persons and, on the contrary, injustice is a constant source of conflict.

It is therefore particularly appropriate to combine the practice of justice and charity, which are as it were "the sublime laws of the social order". In this regard, John Paul II writes: "Justice alone is not enough.... Historical experience... has led to the formulation of the saying: summum ius, summa iniuria.14

Family: school of justice, love, peace

Various sociological statistics show that the family — in addition to being the most appreciated institution (84-97%)15 and a reference point for people — makes a vital contribution to social cohesion. In fact, relations established within families (paternal-filial, fraternal, intergenerational)16 foster the social responsibility of the family group.

How does the family achieve social cohesion? Various sociological indicators17 show that the family obtains social cohesion by means of its fertility that assures the continuation of the generations, and that in it one's identity is grasped (I am a child because I have a father, I am a father because I have a child) which consolidates the "rooting of identity" as an element that shapes the personality.

On the other hand, due to the free giving that dominates its nature and dynamism, the family can pass on moral values and offer integral assistance because it is a spiritual womb. In these conditions, the family is enabled to carry out its proper role (the principle of subsidiarity) which consists in being the educator of the new generations.

Other entities must not arrogate to themselves the roles of others. The family, on the other hand, due to its vocation of permanence in time, is the context in which the essential values of the person — which are not only technical but also and fundamentally spiritual — are developed, moulded and transmitted.

In fact, the complementarity of parents and the stable commitment of spouses make possible the task of integral education that demands constancy, generosity and lasting dedication. This educational process is never completed, which is why the family reference is indispensable for forging a mature personality that contributes to society the values passed on to it in the family.

As Marguerite Dubois has said so beautifully, "children do not grow under their parents but beside them. Not in their shadow but in their light".

The family is the school of justice and peace because it educates in and for the truth18, in and for freedom, in and for social life. The genuinely educative action of the family consists in "fitting the roots of truth to the wings of freedom".

It is in this circle among truth and freedom that the values of dialogue, the sequela, responsibility, exigency, discipline, respect, sacrifice and balance can be transmitted. Is society convinced that these and other values for building a just and peaceful society are lacking?

This then is the oxygenated lifeblood that the family can bring to society. The social capital that the family contributes is of indisputable value, since it enables a full use of the individual and social dimensions that every human being possesses. Hence common sense and logic are every day increasingly committed to strengthening the family as the true source of justice and peace.

The family is called to be a protagonist of peace, over and above the threats and problems to coexistence and interpersonal and international relations that are surfacing today in so many forms. The family is the context in which every person is helped to attain the full maturity that will enable him to build a society of harmony, solidarity and peace19.

In fact, in healthy family life certain essential elements are experienced: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the parent's role of authority, affectionate service to the weakest, to the elder and to the sick, mutual help in life's necessities, the willingness to welcome others and if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason the family is "the first and indispensable teacher of peace"20.

Experience shows adequately that the values nurtured in the family are a very significant element in the moral development of the social relations of which the fabric of society is woven. The stability of peoples depends on the unity, fidelity and fertility of the family as the foundation of society.

Members of a family must be conscientious of their central role in the cause of peace through education in human values within the family, and through each of its member's participation in the life of society outside the family.

Moreover recognizing the right of families to be supported in this role, the State must see that laws are oriented to promoting them, helping them to carry out their tasks.

"In the face of increasing pressure nowadays to consider as legally equivalent to the union of spouses forms of union which, by their very nature or their intentional lack of permanence are in no way capable of expressing the meaning and ensuring the good of the family, it is the duty of the State to encourage and protect the authentic institution of the family, respecting its natural structure and its innate and inalienable rights.

"Among these, the fundamental one is the right of parents to decide, freely and responsibly, on the basis of their moral and religious convictions and with a properly formed conscience, when to have a child, and then to educate that child in accordance with those convictions"21.

Supporting families in the various contexts in which their life develops makes an objective contribution to building peace. And "whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace22.

Although the disintegration of the family is a threat to peace and a sign of society's moral and economic underdevelopment, its health instead is largely measured by the importance given to conditions that foster the identity and mission of families. It is impossible to ignore the fact that aid to the family contributes to the harmony of society and the nation and also encourages peace among people and in the world.

To protect and defend the rights of families as a treasure is the task of all, and in the first place of families, as the protagonists of their own mission. However, it is also the duty of other institutions and, in particular, of the Church and the State. The future of society, the future of humanity passes through the family.


We can now summarize the answer to the question: "What does the family contribute to society?" as follows:

1. The family is a guarantee of society's future. In it the fundamental good of human life is transmitted and suitable conditions for the integral education of children are found. The family offers the treasure of procreation and makes a crucial contribution to ensuring that children become good citizens.

2. The family transmits the cultural heritage. It is in the bosom of the family that culture is passed on "as a specific way of man's 'existing' and 'being'"23. The integration of each individual in his national community — language, customs, traditions — is begun in the family, assuring the subsistence of the peo0ple to which each one belongs. In the family history, through dialogue with the parents and grandparents, an especially important dialogue between generations is recognized; it produces a living memory that forges personal identity.

3. The family contributes far more to society than the sum of each one of its members would because the common good is fostered in it. Therefore, in its absence, society would not receive this "extra" proper to the family. As we have pointed out, the common familial good does not consist only in what is good for each one of its members but in what is good for the whole, thereby nourishing development and social cohesion.

4. The family, in addition to guaranteeing stability, is advantageous for administration. In fact, as well as providing people for economic production, it is a factor of social cohesion that often acts as a "supportive base" in the face of various adverse situations.

The family in our time has become the nucleus of stability for its members with problems of unemployment, illness, dependence or marginalization, alleviating the tragic effects these problems cause. The family today is the primary nucleus of solidarity in society, which can accomplish what it is difficult for the public administration to do.

5. The family is the first champion of human rights, since both these and the family's mission are directed towards the person.

6. The family and society are interdependent with regard to what affects society24. Thus we can say:

a) The family personalizes society. In the family people are valued for their own dignity, emotional ties' are established and the development and personal maturation of children is encouraged by the presence and influence of different and complementary models of the father and mother.

b) The family socializes the person. In it the criteria, values and rules for social coexistence are learned which are essential for the development and wellbeing of its members and for building society: freedom, respect, sacrifice, generosity and solidarity.

In the past few days we have contemplated the Holy Family in Bethlehem and in Nazareth. The Holy Family is called to be a memorial and a prophecy for all the families in the world. The Word of God lived in the Holy Family and through the family has passed on to us a large part of his life, which is a light for every person to know the immensity of what he is called to do: to build already on this earth "a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace"25.

From the heart of Mexico, this is the gift and task entrusted to all the world's families. May the motherly intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe help us in this. Many thanks.


1 John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam sane, 2 February 1994, n. 2.

2 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 17.

3 "In that it is, and ought always to become, a communion and community of persons, the family fins in love the source and the constant impetus for welcoming, respecting and promoting each one of its members in his or her lofty dignity as a person, that is, as a living image of God" (ibid., n. 22).

4Ibid., n. 43.

5 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 164.

6Catechism of the Catholic Church, cf. nn. 1907-1909.

7 cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nn. 489-493.

8 Summa Theologiae, q. 29, a. I.

9Republic, bk. IV.

10 Instruction on certain aspects of the "Theology of Liberation", 6 August 1984, IV, 6-7.

11 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Solicitudo rei socialis, n. 39.

12 John Paul II, Address to the Pastoral Theological Congress of the Second World Meeting of Families, Rio de Janeiro, 3 October 1997, n. 3 in L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 October 1997, p. 4; cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 18.

13 John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra, n. 39. Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Contra gentiles, 3, 130; Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo anno, n. 137; John Paul II Encyclical Letter Dives in misericordia,n. 12.

14 "By itself justice is not enough. Indeed, it can even betray itself, unless it is open to that deeper power which is love", John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 2004,n. 10.

15 Cf. P.P. Donati (edited by), Riconoscere la Famiglia: quale valore aggiunto per la persona e la società?, Edizioni S. Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 2007, pp. 63-173.

16 Cf. Pontifical Council for the Family, XVIII Plenary Assembly: "I nonni: la loro testimonianza e presenza nella famiglia". Familia et Vita, Year XIV, n. 4/2008.

17 Cf. E. Herltfelter, I Congreso de Education Católica para el siglo XXI, ed' Instituto de Politica Familiar, Valencia 2008.

18 "Wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendour of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace", Benedict XVI, Message far the World Day of Peace 2006, n.3.

19 "Respect for the person promotes peace and... in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism. In this way a serene future is prepared for coming generations: Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace, 2007, n. 1.

20 Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace, 2008, n. 3.

21John Paul II, Message for the World Peace Day 2004, n. 5.

22 Benedict XVI, Message for the World Peace Day 2008, n. 5.

23 Cf. John Paul II, Address to UNESCO, 2 June 1980, n. 6.

24 "What is the state of public morality which will ensure the family, and above all the parents, the moral authority necessary for this purpose? What type of instruction? What forms of legislation sustain this authority or, on the contrary, weaken it or destroy it? The causes of success and failure in the formation of man by his family always lie both within the fundamental creative environment of culture which the family is, and also at a higher level, that of the competence of the State and the organs, on which these causes depend": ibid.,n: 12.

25 Roman Missal, Preface for the Mass of Christ the King.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 January 2009, page 8

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