Family was at the core of Pope Francis’ trip to the US at the end of September 2015. In his General Audience on 30 September, he identified that his words and actions from the trip could be symbolised by this statement:
“God always wants to build bridges; we are the ones that build walls! And walls collapse, always.”
This bridge building approach was evident in the way he spoke to audiences at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
The Pope’s first address to the meeting was at the Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families on 26 September. He began this address by reflecting on the mystery of God’s entry into the world through a family, the Holy Family.
God’s interest in being close to humanity and to families is expressed from His name, Emmanuel, or “God is with us”. The Pope contrasted this closeness with the solitude of Adam before the creation of Eve, by pointing out that a family is the remedy to loneliness because:
“Family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be part of God’s dream … To join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless.”
At the core of this saga, the Pope noted, is a love for another person that:
“… is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it.”
According to Pope Francis: “Love grows as it is ‘forged’ by the concrete situations which each family experiences.”
While he encouraged families, he also acknowledged that they all have their challenges in saying that “perfect families do not exist” and that:
“… we make mistakes, yes; we have problems, yes. But we know that that is not really what counts. We know that mistakes, problems and conflicts are an opportunity to draw closer to others, to draw closer to God.”
In his homily for the closing Mass 27 September, Pope Francis highlighted that “holiness is always tied to little gestures … we learn at home, in the family.” He went on to point out that:
“Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. This is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches.”
The Pope sees these little signs of love to be “miracles” that are signs of Jesus’ “own living and active presence in our world” that he also described as “prophetic”.
These gestures of love, patience and tenderness between family members stand in contrast to the “scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others!”
Pope Francis’ messages to families at the gathering focussed on the ordinary events which occur in the home and are opportunities for growing in love and holiness.
Consequently, Pope Francis is reaching out to all families by identifying them as a place in which God’s love can be present in both their joys and sufferings.
This loving approach is a great example of the pastoral conversation that he is encouraging all bishops to foster with families to build the bridge between the Church and families.
The nature of this bridge will be a lot clearer now that the Synod on the Family in Rome has concluded.