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1. Cat Tien (a little girl from Vietnam):
Hi, Pope. I am Cat Tien, I come from Vietnam.
I am 7 years old and I would like to present my family to you. He is my dad, Dan, and my mom’s name is Tao, and he is my little brother Binh.
I would really like to know something about your family and when you were little like me…
Holy Father: Thank you, dear, and your parents. I thank you from my heart. Well, you asked about what my memories of my family are like: there would be a lot! I wanted to say only a few things. Sunday was always the important time for our family, but Sunday already began Saturday evening. Father read the readings to us from a book that was very popular in Germany at that time. The book also included an explanation of the readings. That is how Sunday began: we were already entering into the liturgy, in a joyful atmosphere. The next day we went to Mass. My home is very close to Salzburg, so we had a lot of music – Mozart, Schubert, Haydn – and when the Kyrie began it was as if heaven had opened up. And at home the big lunch together was naturally important. And we also sang a lot: my brother is a great musician, he composed music for all of us already as a young man, and the whole family sang. Dad played the zither and sang; they are unforgettable moments. Then, of course, we took trips together, walking; we were near a forest and so walking in the forests was very nice: adventures, games, etc. In a word, we were one heart and one soul, with many shared experiences, even in very hard times, because it was wartime – first there was the dictatorship, then poverty. But this love that we had for each other, this joy even in simple things was strong and so we were able to overcome and endure even these things. I think that it was very important that even little things gave us joy because the other person’s heart expressed itself in this way. And in this way we grew up in the certainty that it was good to be a human being, because we saw that God’s goodness was reflected in our parents and in us children. And, to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little how paradise will be, I think always of the time of my youth, of my childhood. In this context of confidence, of joy and love we were happy and I think that paradise must be something like how it was in my youth. In this sense I hope to go “home,” going to the “other side of the world.”
2. Serge Razafinbony and Fara Andrianombonana (an engaged couple from Madagascar):
Serge: Our names are Fara and Serge, and we come from Madagascar. We met each other in Florence, where we were studying. I was studying engineering and she was studying economics. We have been engaged for 4 years and having just graduated we dream of returning to our country to help our people also through our professions.
Fara: The family models that dominate the West do not convince us, but we are also aware that certain customs of our Africa must be changed in some way. We feel made for each other; because of this we want to get married and build a future together. We also want every aspect of our life to be guided by the values of the Gospel. But talking about marriage, Your Holiness, there is one word that attracts and, at the same time, frightens us more than any other: “forever”…
Holy Father: Dear friends, thank you for your witness. My prayer is with you in this journey of engagement and I hope that you can create, with the values of the Gospel, a family that is “forever.” You spoke of different types of marriage: we know the “traditional marriage” (mariage coutumier) of Africa and western marriage. In Europe too, to tell the truth, until the 1800s, a different model of marriage that was dominant: often the marriage was in reality a contract between clans in which the aim was to preserve the clan, hoping to adapt the one to the other. This is also how it was in part where I come from. I remember that it was still very much like this in a small town where I went to school. But then, beginning in the 1800s, there was the emancipation of the individual, personal freedom, and marriage was no longer based on the will of others but on personal choice; first a couple fell in love, then they got engaged and then came marriage. At that time we were all convinced that this was the only correct model of marriage and that love alone guaranteed the “forever,” because love is absolute, it wants everything and therefore also the whole of time: it is “forever.” Unfortunately, the reality was not thus: we see that falling love is beautiful, but perhaps it is not always perpetual, just as sentiment is not: it does not remain forever. So, we see that the passage from falling in love to engagement and then to marriage requires different decisions, different interior experiences. As I said, this sentiment of love is beautiful, but it must be purified, it must follow a path of discernment, that is, it must enter into the reason and will; reason, sentiment and will must join together. In the Rite of Matrimony the Church does not say: “Are you in love?” but “Do you will?” (Vuoi?), “Are you decided?” (Sei deciso?) In other words, falling in love must become true love involving the will and reason on a journey, which is that of engagement, of purification, of greater depth, so that truly the whole person, with all of his capacities, with the discernment of reason, the power of the will, says: “Yes, this is my life.” I think often of the marriage at Cana. The first wine is delicious: this is falling in love. But it does not go all the way: a second wine must come, that is, it must ferment and grow, mature. A definitive love that really becomes a “second wine” is more beautiful, better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek. And here it is also important that the “I” is not isolated, I and you, but that they community of the parish, the Church, friends be involved too. These things – the proper personalization, communion of life with others, with families that support each other – are very important and only in this way, in this involvement of the community, of friends, of the Church, of faith, of God himself, can there grow a wine that lasts forever. Congratulations to you!
3. The Paleologos Family (from Greece)
Nikos: Kalispera! We are the Paleologos family. We come from Athens. My name is Nikos and this is my wife Pania. And these are our 2 children, Pavlos and Lydia.
A number of years ago, with 2 other partners, we invested everything we had and we started a small information technology company.
When the current economic crisis hit, the client pool drastically shrank and those who have remained defer their payments more and more. We are barely able to pay the salaries of the 2 employees, and very little remains for us partners: so with every day that passes little remains to support our families. Our situation is one among many, among millions of others. In the city people walk around with their heads down; no one trusts anyone anymore, hope is gone.
Pania: Although we continue to believe in providence, we also find it hard to think of a future for our children.
There are days and nights, Holy Father, in which we ask ourselves how not to lose hope. What can the Church say to all of these people, to these persons and families who no longer have futures?
Holy Father: Dear friends, thank you for this testimony which has moved my heart and the heart of everyone here. How can we respond? Words are insufficient. We must do something concrete and it is painful for all of us that we are unable to do anything concrete. Let us speak first of politics: it seems to me that in all of the political parties the sense of responsibility must develop, that they not promise what they cannot deliver, that they not only seek votes for themselves, but that they be responsible for everyone’s good and understand that politics is always also human and moral responsibility before God and men. Then, naturally, individuals suffer and must accept the situation as it is, often without the possibility of defending themselves. Nevertheless, we can also say here: let us make an effort that everyone do what is possible for him to do, that he think of himself, of the family, of others, with a great sense of responsibility, knowing that sacrifices are necessary to move forward. A third point: what can we ourselves do? This is my question at this moment. I think that perhaps twinning cities, families, parishes could help. We have in Europe right now a network of twinning, but they are culture exchanges, which are in a certain way good and useful, but maybe we need twinning in another sense: a family in the West, from Italy, from Germany, from France… might truly take on the responsibility of helping another family. Parishes, cities too could do this, really assuming responsibility, helping in a concrete manner. And be certain: I and many others are praying for you, and this praying is not only words, but opening up the heart to God and so also it creates creativity in finding solutions. We hope that the Lord will help us, that the Lord will always help you! Thank you.
4. The Rerrie Family (from the United States)
Jay: We live near New York.
My name is Jay. I am originally from Jamaica and I am an accountant. This is my wife Anna and she is a teacher’s aid.
And these are our 6 children, who are between 2 and 12. From this you can well imagine, Your Holiness, that our life is one of always racing against the clock, of complicated worries and attempt at coordination…
Even with us, in the United States, one of the absolute priorities is keeping a job, and to do it you cannot worry about the hours, and often it is our family that sets us back.
Anna: Of course, it is not always easy … The impression, Your Holiness, is that institutions and businesses do not facilitate the conciliation of working hours with the family schedule.
Your Holiness, we imagine that for you too it is not easy to conciliate your infinite commitments with rest.
Do you have some advice to help us rediscover this necessary harmony? In the vortex of the many stimuli imposed by contemporary society, how can families be helped to live celebrations according to God’s heart?
Holy Father: Great question, and I would like to reflect on this dilemma in connection to 2 priorities: the priority of work is fundamental, and the priority of the family. And how do we reconcile these 2 priorities? I can only try to offer a small bit of advice. The first point: there are businesses that permit extra time for the family – birthdays, etc. – and they see that allowing a little freedom is good even for the business, because it reinforces the love for work, for the workplace. So, here I would like to invite employers to think of the family, to think also of helping to conciliate the 2 priorities. Second point: it seems to me that you must try to be creative, and this is not always easy. But at least every day bring some element of joy to the family, of attention, some sacrifice of your own wishes, so that the family can be together; and accept and overcome the nights, the hard times of which we spoke earlier, and think of this great good that is the family and thus, even in the important attempt to do something good every day, find the reconciliation of the 2 priorities. And finally there is Sunday, the feast: I hope that Sunday is observed in America. Sunday seems very important to me, the day of the Lord and, precisely as such, the “day of man” too, because we are free. This was, in the creation account, the Creator’s original intention: that on one day everyone would be free. In this freedom for each other, for ourselves, we are free for God. And so I think that we are defending man’s freedom when we defend Sunday and holidays as God’s days and therefore days for man. Best wishes to you! Thank you.
5. The Araujo Family (from Porto Alegre, Brazil)
Maria Marta: Your Holiness, as in the rest of the world so also in our Brazil failed marriages continue to increase.
My name is Maria Marta and this is Manoel Angelo. We have been married for 34 years and we are already grandparents. As a doctor and family psychotherapist we meet many families, and notice in conflicts between couples a more pronounced difficulty in forgiving and accepting forgiveness, but in various cases we have seen the desire and the will to remarry and to build something lasting also for the children who are born from the new union.
Manoel Angelo: Some of these remarried couples would like to return to the Church, but when they are refused the Sacraments their delusion is great. They feel excluded, singled out by a judgment to which there is no appeal.
These great sufferings wound the very depths of those who are involved – lacerations that also become part of the world, and they are also our wounds, of all humanity.
Holy Father, we know that the Church has these situations and these persons in her heart: what words and what signs of hope can we give them?
Holy Father: Dear friends, thank you for your psychotherapeutic work with families, which is very necessary. Thank you for all that you do to help these suffering persons. In fact, this problem of divorced people who have remarried is among the more painful things that today’s Church has to suffer. And we do not have simple fixes for it. The suffering is great and we can only help the parishes and individuals help these persons endure the suffering of this divorce. I would say that, naturally, prevention is very important, that is, from the very beginning to deepen the affection (innamoramento) into a profound, ripened decision; moreover, accompanying the family during the marriage [is also very important], so that families are never alone but are truly accompanied on their journey. And then, in regard to divorced persons, we must tell them – as you said – that the Church loves them, but they must see and feel this love. It seems to me that it is a major task of a parish, of a Catholic community, really to do what is possible so that they really feel that they are loved, accepted, that they are not “outside” even if they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist: they must see that even in this way they live fully in the Church. Perhaps it is not possible to receive absolution in Confession, nevertheless, permanent contact with a priest, with a spiritual director, is very important so that they can see that someone is there for them, helping them. Then it is also very important that they sense that the Eucharist is real and participated in if they truly enter into communion with the Body of Christ. Even without the “bodily” reception of the Sacrament, we can be spiritually united to Christ in his Body. And making this understood is important so that they really discover the possibility of living a life of faith, with the Word of God, with the communion of the Church and are able to see that their suffering is a gift for the Church, that they serve everyone in this way even for defending the stability of love, of marriage; that they also see that this suffering is not only a physical and psychological torment, but that it is also a suffering in the community of the Church for the great values of our faith. I think that their suffering, if it is truly accepted interiorly, is a gift for the Church. They must know this, that precisely in this way they serve the Church, they are in the Church’s heart. Thank you for your work.
[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]