He came to America and encountered us in the streets, schools and historic places where we gathered. Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States and the World Meeting of Families has renewed our hope and filled many with gratitude for the beauty of family life.
At his final Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pope Francis declared, “Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil – a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work – will encounter gratitude and our appreciation.”
The Holy Father made this invitation to generosity in the context of urging people to renew their trust in God’s Word, which “invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman.” And that covenant of marriage, he emphasized, “generates life and reveals God! Which helps us participate in the prophecy of peace, of tenderness, of family love… .”
This World Meeting of Families made history by having over 18,000 attendees – the most since the gathering was started by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994. It was truly beautiful, and gave me hope to see how many families present in Philadelphia had already responded to God’s invitation to live with generous hearts.
But even more than the numbers, I was struck by the beauty of the selfless, sacrificial love I saw. In the large families that were present, the older children cared for their younger brothers and sisters. In older families, younger family members pushed their parents or grandparents to the different venues in wheelchairs. And then there were all the babies who traveled from near and far on pilgrimage with their mothers and fathers, giving witness to the truth and goodness of family life and marriage.
This was the family Pope Francis affirmed in his speeches, with his embraces and prayers. By their presence, the families in Philadelphia gave witness that they do not belong to the “throw away culture,” “the culture of death,” or the “culture of indifference” but to “the culture of life,” which their encounter with Jesus Christ ignited in them. And as I wrote in my Sept. 11th column, “The quiet family revolution,” there are many other families who are doing the same. I am deeply grateful for this witness, and as a Church we need to continue to support generosity in the family.
During his Saturday night gathering, called the Festival of Families, the Holy Father also touched on how family life has its share of suffering. “Sometimes people tell me, ‘Father, you speak like that because you are not married.’ Families have difficulties…families, we quarrel. And sometimes plates can fly. Children bring headaches, and I won’t even speak about mothers-in law.” And then he added, “In families there are always difficulties, but those difficulties are overcome by love.”
On Sunday morning he reinforced that message when he met with prisoners and reflected on how Jesus washing the disciples’ feet demonstrated his desire to heal every wound of the human heart, even the heart of a criminal. He reminded all of us that we have wounds that only Jesus can heal, and that the family is the privileged place where that healing can take place.
Pope Francis’ first visit to our country brought the Gospel to many who may not have heard it in years, if at all. In his words and by his gestures he placed the beauty of the family in front of millions, and for that all of us should be grateful to God. We must also take advantage of this moment to do all we can to bring the hope of the family to the world.
On Oct. 4, the Holy Father opened the three-week Ordinary Synod on the Family in Rome. Please join me in praying each day for Pope Francis and all of the bishops that they will be guided by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth and love – and that they will lift up the beauty of family life to our broken world.