VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI will meet with the world’s families at a time when the institution of the family is under threat and many are still struggling with a worldwide economic crisis and a lack of cultural and societal support.
As a sign of his deep concern for bolstering the family based on the lifelong union between a man and a woman, the pope will travel to Milan to meet with those attending the May 30-June 3 World Meeting of Families.
The pope will arrive June 1 and will close the event with an outdoor Mass. His three-day visit is an extraordinary sign of how much the pope wants to reaffirm the importance of families built on Christian values, Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told Catholic News Service.
“It’s as if the pope wants to say ‘I am giving the maximum importance to what you families live out and I want to be near you; I believe in what you are experiencing and want to renew this hope,'” the bishop said.
The Milan gathering will be the second world family meeting that Pope Benedict has attended in his pontificate. The meetings, held every three years, are hosted by different dioceses around the world and are sponsored by the Vatican’s council for the family as a way for families to meet, discuss critical issues and grow in the faith.
Even though the pope missed the sixth world meeting in Mexico City in 2009, he has always been a vocal advocate of families.
Almost all of his speeches to visiting diplomats, heads of state and the world’s bishops address the need for governments and the church to support this fundamental building block of society. It’s the family where future generations are formed to be members of a constructive, generous, hopeful and peaceful world, the pope has said.
The pope’s message “will certainly be a message of hope, that, yes, it is worthwhile to live the fullness of the meaning of the family” as God designed and intended, as an indissoluble union between a man and a woman, Bishop Laffitte said.
The pope will meet with young people at San Siro Stadium, attend an evening celebration where he will hear people’s testimonies of faith, lead a Sunday morning outdoor Mass and have lunch with event organizers and families. He will pray with priests and religious at Milan’s Duomo cathedral and venerate the relics of St. Charles Borromeo, patron saint of catechists, seminarians, learning and the arts, and co-patron saint of Milan.
The pope will also attend a concert held in his honor at the La Scala opera house, featuring Beethoven’s 9th Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
The pope will have a chance to get his message out to the wider world when he meets with the people of Milan and civilian authorities. It may be an opportunity for him to weigh in on a major issue facing states in different parts of the world: the ongoing push to legalize or recognize same-sex unions and marriage.
The pope has repeatedly called on governments to respect and defend the traditional definition of marriage and urged the church to promote the natural order in the institution of the family.
Marriage between a man and a woman “is not a simple social convention,” the pope told the world’s ambassadors to the Vatican this year. The family is the basic unit of society and “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” he said.
The pope’s approach has been to win over people’s hearts and minds, in part by having Catholics themselves serve as credible witnesses to the joy and love that come from living in accordance with natural law.
The church needs to help people discover that its teaching not only makes sense, but also protects human dignity and creates a stable society, he has said.
In fact, on his way to his first World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, the pope told reporters he was more interested in highlighting what works and makes families thrive than in lambasting opponents.
He said that stressing what is positive about Christian living can help people see “why the church cannot accept certain things, but at the same time wants to respect people and help them.”
Bishop Laffitte agreed that the church always tries its best to explain its position and to reach out with pastoral concern to people of good will, even if they cannot or do not want to live a life founded on natural law.
However, he said, when it comes to people who are openly hostile to the church’s contribution and propose changing laws in regard to the traditional definition of marriage, then the church must “be very precise, firm and strong in reiterating the principles” of natural law.
The church must “also denounce the relativistic principles” that give rise to a near-infinite array of subjective preferences about what human love and marriage are, he said.
This year’s theme for the gathering, “Work and Celebration,” comes at a critical time for many families struggling with the challenges of unemployment, low wages, long work hours for one or both parents, building a nest egg for a home or the children’s education and many other problems connected with working to support a family.
Pope Benedict is expected to address these real problems, as he did recently when he said work should not hurt the family, “but rather should support and unite it, help it to open itself to life” and take part more fully in the church and community.
Marking the U.N.’s International Day of Families May 15, the pope said employers should also respect Sundays as a day of rest and a time families can strengthen their relationships with each other and with God.
This year’s World Meeting of Families’ lecture series will feature Catholic economists, entrepreneurs, church leaders and other experts sharing best practices for families seeking to sustain themselves both financially and spiritually.
Bishop Laffitte said that with so much attention being paid to resolving economic difficulties, people often forget about cultivating social and spiritual needs.
It’s important to also spend quality time with loved ones and “rediscover the source, inspiration, grace and spiritual strength in the Sunday Eucharist,” he said.
— By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service