Family Must Be Focus of Pastoral Care

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

The Holy Father's address to the members of the Pontifical Council for the Family and the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, to mark the celebration of their 15th anniversary, given on 9 May 1996.

Your Eminence, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

1. I am pleased to welcome you to this audience on the occasion of the Congress with which you have wished to highlight an event which is so meaningful to you—and to me.

I greet and thank Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo who, in expressing your sentiments of affection and devotion has also explained the particular reason for our meeting. I next greet Bishop Angelo Scola, the current President of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, and Archbishop Carlo Caffarra, who was for many years his predecessor. With them, I also greet the teachers of the institute and the officials of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who have spoken at this audience. Through them I convey my greetings to all those who contribute in any way to the life of the two institutes, whose 15th anniversary we are commemorating today.

2. The facts are well-known. My predecessor, Paul VI, chose <the family> as the theme of the Ordinary Synod in 1980. This choice was subsequently reconfirmed by me and put into effect with great profit for the whole Church. Among the most immediate results which stemmed from it was the creation of the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1981 and the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The passing years have shown how appropriate both these institutions have been for meeting the challenges to the family in our time. These two institutions are in many ways complementary and are called to carry out a service which is particularly important for the Church's life in these last years of the century and of the millennium.

Encourage families to discover their resources

The Apostolic Exhortation <Familiaris consortio> is certainly the <Magna Carta> of the Pontifical Council for the Family. It has been the constant reference point for its activities in the pastoral promotion of the family. The reflections of the Synod Fathers have yielded a very rich harvest of pastoral guidelines and perspectives, stressing families themselves - as the main subjects of the family apostolate. They should therefore have the full support of Pastors.

3. In putting these pastoral guidelines into practice, in recent years the Pontifical Council for the Family has had the Bishops and Episcopal Conferences as - its main interlocutors. Together with them it has sought to promote a joint pastoral ministry focused on the family. In fact, it becomes ever clearer that a section for families in the pastoral ministry is not enough. The family must be the focus of diocesan or national plans because "the future of humanity passes through the family" (<Familiaris consortio>, n. 86).

How can we fail to see indicated in this expression from <Familiaris consortio> all the historical, political and social importance of families for all mankind? Can peoples expect a serene future if families suffer destructive blows that prevent parents from fulfilling their sacred mission? Today more than ever families must be encouraged to discover their resources and energies, and to become the responsible protagonists of their own destiny.

The central place of the family was seen concretely on the occasion of the International Year of the Family, when a more acute awareness of the fact that, in the defence of society's primordial human and Christian values, the family remains the decisive element. Recent events have unfortunately shown us the paradox of public institutions, whose task should be the defence of the family as the first cel1 of society, but which make decisions that threaten and destroy it.

4. The other interlocutors of the Pontifical Council for the Family, in addition to the Bishops and Episcopal Conferences, are the movements, groups and associations whose aim is to defend the Family and life. It is truly providential that today in the Church many initiatives with this goal are springing up. Does this not confirm the idea adopted by <Familiaris consortio>, that families must consider themselves called to be the true leaders in the evangelization of families?

This is why, spurred by so many experiences in my previous priestly and episcopal ministry, I wished to encourage this necessary work with families by asking that families be made the focus of pastoral work in parishes, Dioceses and the Episcopal Conferences themselves. For this same reason, with the Motu Proprio <Familia a Deo instituta>, I changed the former Committee into the Pontifical Council for the Family and I am pleased to see that it is dynamically carrying out the work which I have entrusted to it, as the Successor of Peter.

5. To this pastoral activity it was necessary also to offer the contribution of scientifically rigorous academic study. This is precisely why the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was created. Today the systematic formation of pastors in these subjects according to a correct view of human anthropology, enlightened by the Gospel, is seriously and urgently needed. Among these subjects, treatises on marriage and the family translate the truths that inspire the Christian vision of man into ordinary human life. It is therefore necessary to give the pastoral care of the family a philosophical and theological support which counteracts the atheistic and materialistic view of life. There was a need for an advanced institute where students could be given specialized training, to be able in turn, either as teachers or as leaders in the pastoral care of the family in the various geographical areas, to help enrich the life of the faithful, enabling them to discover the vocation to holiness of spouses and of the other family members

Fifteen years after its foundation, it is right to recognize that the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family has fully passed the test. In addition to acquiring a doctrinal formation at university' level in the various disciplines, students have the opportunity to undertake research for their degree on a specific theme, drawing from it the scholarly maturity necessary for future pastoral workers and teachers.

Institute offers teaching faithful to the Magisterium

It is not by chance that in recent years this new university institute has continued to expand with the creation of numerous affiliates in different countries and continents. Thus student access has been facilitated, and closer contact is possible with the concrete problems of the different geographical areas while preserving a unity of goals and direction, thanks to the availability of a faculty which guarantees that the teaching is doctrinally sound and faithful to the Church's magisterium.

So far, many Dioceses have benefited from priests and students trained at this institute, and it is also to be hoped that other Bishops will reinforce the pastoral care of the family in their own Dioceses by sending students to the institute, so that in the future it will be possible to have competent co-workers in this important area of pastoral activity. It is a source of comfort to see how many Dioceses are open to a pastoral ministry with a wider participation and in keeping with the current challenges.

6. Heartfelt appreciation therefore goes to al1 of you who have worked in these years to harvest such promising fruit. At the same time, I warmly encourage you to continue your work in such an important area for the Church's good.

I commend your commitment and that of all your co-workers to Mary Most Holy, Queen of the Family. I ask her to accompany your efforts with her protection, and to make them fruitful for the good of individual families, the Church and society itself.

With these wishes, I impart a special Blessing to all, as a pledge of my constant affection.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 June 1996

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