By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Ireland on the occasion of the 9th World Meeting of Families sent an important signal to the world. By way of his presence and passionate addresses to different audiences that participated at the World Meetings of Families, pope Francis was able to refocus the attention of our societies to the importance of the family, since it constitutes the most essential nucleus of society. What was however shocking, was that with a few exceptions, the international press commented the visit with maliciousness and hostility, claiming that the Pope had “disappointed” many since he didn’t use the unique chance to ask the Irish people for forgiveness and outline concrete measures to fight the cases of child abuse in Ireland. The truth is that in all of his pastoral addresses the Pope used the occasion to harshly condemn the cases of abuse expressing the commitment of the Church to rigorously eradicate the virus of corruption and abuse among people in power and in the church.

The motto of the 9th World Family Meeting in Dublin was taken from the well-known Exhortation which Pope Francis had published after the Family Synod under the title “Amoris Laetitia-Joy of love”( February 2015) – a motto which was echoed in the different papal speeches. In an address in Croke Park Stadium (Dublin, Saturday August 25th), the pope referred to the document “Amoris Laetitia” by stating that “I wanted the theme of this World Meeting of Families to be ‘The Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World”. He underlined that Christian marriage and family life can only be seen in all their beauty and attractiveness if they are “anchored in the love of God, who created us in his own image, so that we might give him glory as icons of his love and holiness in the world.”

Healthy Christian family life – a model for society

In every society, the Pope emphasized, “families generate peace”, because they teach the “virtues of love, acceptance and forgiveness that are the best antidote to the hatred, prejudice and vengeance that can poison the life of individuals and communities.” He recalled the immense wisdom generated by the “grandparents” to the families, making reference to the fourth chapter of “Amoris Laetitia”-whereby a society that does not “value grandparents”, has no future. And that a church that is not mindful of the “covenant between generations” will end up lacking the thing that really matters, which is love. “Our grandparents teach us the meaning of conjugal and parental love. They themselves grew up in a family and experience the love of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. So they are a treasury of experience, a treasury of wisdom for the new generation. It is a big mistake not to ask the elderly about their experience, or to think that talking to them is a waste of time.” He emphasized that he wanted to give each of the participants at the gathering a copy of “Amoris Laetitia” and recommended to carefully study the fourth chapter of “Amoris Laetitia”.

The fourth chapter of “ Amoris Laetitia” contains a quote taken from the famous Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (13,2-3) in which St Paul wrote “If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,4-7)

During his visit to the St.Mary’s pro cathedral in Dublin, Saturday August 25th the pontiff addressed an audience consisting of young married couples,- some with babies on their arms-, but also of many elderly couples. Speaking about marriage, Pope Francis stressed that marriage is not simply an institution but a “vocation.” It’s something which endures all life and to think about this, was particularly important in a culture which lives from the “provisional,” a “culture of the ephemeral.” He compared the family to a “domestic church”, where children learn from the daily example of parents. “They thus learn about faith, they learn about the meaning of fidelity, integrity and sacrifice and they see how their mother and father interact with each other, how they care for each other and for others, how they love God and love the Church.” It is around the family table and in the day to day family life that children learn how to pray and how to share with the poor people.

Similar to what he did during the “World Meeting of Families” in Philadelphia three years ago, Pope Francis provocatively asked the married couples, whether they “quarrel a lot”, which is also a theme picked up in the recent film about Pope Francis. “Quarrel is part of marriage, since a marriage without arguments is quite boring. He advised them that “plates can even fly, but the secret is to make up before the end of the day. And to make up, there is no need to talk; a caress is enough, like that and peace returns. Do you know why his is important? Because if you do not make up before going to bed, the ‘cold war’ of the following day is too dangerous, resentment builds up (….) Yes, fight all you want, but make up at night. All right? Don’t forget this, you young people.” He expressed his concern that in the family we are forgetting the direct “language of caress”, the strength of tenderness: “There will be no revolution of love without a revolution of tenderness.”

Meeting with authorities and diplomats – the Pope expressed his deep sorrows

During his address to authorities, civil society representatives and the diplomatic corps, the Pontiff reaffirmed the importance of the 9th World Family Meeting in Ireland. He qualified it as an opportunity “to testify to the unique role played by the family in the education of its members and the development of a sound and flourishing social fabric.” Speaking about the “effects” which the breakdown in marriage and family life has for the future of communities at every level, he underlined that “families are the glue of society: their welfare cannot be taken for granted, but must be promoted and protected by every appropriate means.” It is in the family, he stressed, that children are getting socialized. “There we learned to live together in harmony, to master our selfish instincts and reconcile our differences an above all to discern and seek those values that give authentic meaning and fulfillment to our lives. If we speak of our entire world as a single family, it is because we rightly acknowledge the bonds of our common humanity and we sense our call to unity and solidarity, especially with the weakest of our brothers and sisters.”

In front of the Irish Prime Minister who in his introductory statement had spoken in favor of a society that promotes “different” forms of family life- differentiated according to gender preference- the pope spoke in defense of the family which must be promoted and protected by every appropriate means and evoked that we must get the sense of a true family of peoples. He also deeply deplored the “grave scandal which was caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education …. The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others- adequately to address those repellent crimes has rightly given outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments.”

Penitential Act of the Holy Father

At the end of the World meeting of Families, during a Holy Mass in Phoenix Park Dublin (26th), the Pope spoke about the history of great early Irish monks, like St. Columban who with a small group of companions helped to evangelize Europe, by bringing “the light of the Gospel to the lands of Europe.” He called upon the gathered families to follow the model of St Columban and not “be discouraged by the icy state of indifference or the stormy winds of hostility and that it is sometimes difficult to forgive those who hurt us: how challenging always to welcome the migrant and the stranger; how painful joyfully to bear disappointment, rejection, betrayal; how inconvenient to protect the rights of the most vulnerable, the unborn or the elderly, who seem to impinge upon our own sense of freedom.”

At the end of the Holy Mass in making in reference to a discussion which he had with eight survivors of the abuse, he asked “forgiveness for the cases of abuse in Ireland, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of the representatives of the Church. We also ask forgiveness for cases in which many minors were exploited for their labour. We ask forgiveness for all those times when, as a Church, we did not offer to the survivors of any type of abuse compassion and the pursuit of justice and truth by concrete actions. We ask forgiveness for some members of the hierarchy who took no responsibility for these painful situations and kept silent. We ask forgiveness for those children who were taken away from their mother and for all those times when so many single mothers, who tried to find their children that had been taken away, or those children who tried to find their mothers, were told that this was a mortal sin. It is not a mortal sin; it is the fourth commandment! We ask forgiveness. May the Lord preserve and increase this sense of shame and repentance, and grant us the strength to ensure that it never happens again and that justice is done.”

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