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The treasure of families

In the August edition of The Pope Video, Pope Francis compares families to a treasure. “When speaking of families, often the image of a treasure comes to my mind,” the Pope remarks. He highlights the need to need to promote proper family policies in all societies and to help families progress, in the face of some of the challenges of modern life. “It’s not enough to talk about their importance: it’s necessary to promote concrete means and to develop their role in society with a good family policy,” he emphasises.

“Today’s rhythm of life, stress, pressure at work, and also the little attention paid by institutions, could put them in danger”, Francis explains. The Holy Father concludes with a request to join with him in prayer for his intention for August “Let us ask Jesus that any far-reaching decisions of economists and politicians may protect the family as one of the treasures of humanity”.

Noting how Pope Francis dedicates this month to families, Fr Frédéric Fornos SJ, international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network suggests that “during this month in which we pray that families may be protected, let us also take the time to go deeper into the spirituality of the family”, as Pope Francis proposes in in ‘Amoris Laeticia’, his post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family.

In that exhortation Francis outlines that families “often feel abandoned due to a lack of interest and attention on the part of institutions”. The Holy Father explains that economic constraints “prohibit a family’s access to education, cultural activities and involvement in the life of society”. The family “is a good which society cannot do without, and it ought to be protected”, he remarks, pointing out that families “have the right to to be able to count on an adequate family policy on the part of public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains”. (Amoris Laetitia 43-44).

This month’s intention of the Pope on the treasure of the family is very apt as Dublin prepares to host the World Meeting of Families which takes place from 21-26 August. At the prayer vigil for the last World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on 26 September 2015 Pope Francis spoke about the importance of family to the fabric of society. “We cannot call any society healthy when it does not leave real room for family life”, he said. The Pope further remarked that “we cannot think that a society has a future a society can’t have a future that fails to pass laws capable of protecting families and ensuring their basic needs, especially those of families just starting out”. God’s dream, he explained “invites us to work for a society which supports families”.

In his message on the occasion of the opening meeting of the 3rd edition of the Family Festival in the resort of Riva Del Garda in Northern Italy on 2 December 2014, Pope Francis commented on “the irreplaceable and fundamental position that the family holds, both in civil society and in the ecclesial community”. He said that “the future of humanity passes through the family, and for this reason it necessary to allow it is to play its proper role”. The Holy Father explained that the family “has its own mission, at the service of its members, of its own development, of life”.

The Pope outlined how the family “has rights and thus needs support and guarantees that enable it to exercise them”, while also noting how it “has duties to society” and must “offer its cooperation in service to the community”. In this way, he said, the family can be recognised as “a privileged sphere in which to practice harmonious solidarity and subsidiarity”. There is synergy between public and private, between business and family, he added.

Writing on the Pope’s Intention in the July issue of Sacred Heart Messenger, the publication of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) in Ireland, Patricia Higgins, remarks that “families, of all types, can be a treasure in that they share the pain or increase the joy of major life moments and allow for deep connections in ordinary life”. According to Patricia families can “magnify joyful occasions”. Citing the example of the birth of a new baby, she says this is a joyful occasion which is celebrated throughout the entire family, adding that “it is really special to see parents, brothers, sisters engage with and delight in a precious new arrival”.

Patricia also notes that “for some, the treasure of family can be difficult to find”, adding that “family can be elusive, both meeting a partner with whom to start a family, and beginning a family once you have one”. She comments on “the stress of family life” and how as a mother of three young children “it can sometimes feel that there are seemingly infinite demands for attention and engagement”, but acknowledges how “there’s some comfort that “this is true in every family”. When there are “difficult and painful emotions to negotiate”, Patricia explains that there is “a need to find a way to always begin again”. This can be “a very challenging aspect of family life”, she notes, but is a key aspect of what makes the family a treasure in her opinion.

Meanwhile Ronan Barry, husband, father, and school chaplain, reflects on the Pope’s Prayer Intention for July in Living Prayer, a booklet produced by Messenger Publications and Pope’s Worldwide Network in Ireland, containing reflections on the Pope’s monthly intentions. The family, he remarks, “offers us opportunities to grow deeper in our humanity, stronger in hope, and more richly in love than we can ever imagine”, explaining how gradually over the years “we grow with our brothers and sisters”, and “as parents we are drawn out of ourselves and into the paradigm that is caring for our children”. According to Ronan “family is not a defined ideal but rather a mosaic made up if many different realities”.

Ronan argues that families “often feel abandoned due to a lack of interest on the behalf of the State”, noting that “this failure to support is often expressed in a tentativeness to welcome new life, in a tendency to see older persons as a burden, the poverty of loneliness and in an increase of extreme experiences within families”. According to Ronan the State, as part of its responsibility to support a growing and evolving society, “should invest in the treasure that is family”. The family, he concludes, “is a core pillar of a local, national and global community; without it, we have nowhere to grow in love”.