PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY
CONCLUSIONS OF THE THEOLOGICAL-PASTORAL CONGRESS
THIRD WORLD MEETING OF THE HOLY FATHER
CHILDREN: SPRINGTIME OF THE FAMILY AND SOCIETY
participants in the Theological-Pastoral Congress organized by the Pontifical
Council for the Family in the framework of the Jubilee of Families in the year
2000, have met, approximately 5,000 of us, in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican,
to deal with the theme: Children,
Springtime of the Family and Society. In addition to the
Presidents of the Bishops’ Commissions for the Family and Life, most of the
Congress participants are married couples from the five continents, appointed
for this event by the Bishops’ Conferences, pro-family and pro-life
movements, associations and groups. At
the end of our work, we considered it useful to formulate some conclusions and
recommendations which were approved by the assembly.
We are aware of
the deep strength of the family based on marriage, a communion of love and
life, on the threshold of the third millennium.
The motto chosen by the Holy Father for the Third World Meeting with
Families invited us to focus our reflections on: Children,
Springtime of the Family and Society. With deep gratitude to the Pope, we
welcomed his guidelines and reflected in these days on the “the joys and the
hopes, the grief and the anxieties” (Gaudium
et spes, n. 1) that concern children, the
supreme gift (cf. Gaudium et spes,
n. 50) for the family and society.
We are living in
an era of growing, systematic attacks on the family and life. In this context, however, both a paralyzing pessimism and a
naive, unrealistic optimism must be avoided. The
tendency to doubt the institution of the family, its nature and mission, and
its foundation on marriage (a union of love and life between a man and a
woman) is somewhat generalized in certain very influential milieus marked by a
secularized mentality. This tendency
can also be seen in some national and international political organizations;
it is present in important means of communications; it disturbs the economic
and professional life of many and hinders our children’s perception of the
reality of marriage.
situation of children around the world is very far from satisfying.
Many children suffer from the evils of war, poverty, sickness, child
labor, abominable sexual exploitation and kidnapping, even for the purpose of
supplying organs for transplants. Fertility
has fallen sharply in many regions, especially where there is great wealth. The plague of divorce is spreading to countries with a long
Christian tradition. Abortion deeply
wounds the soul of entire peoples and the consciences of persons. “De facto
unions” constitute a grave social problem that is growing daily.
There is the risk that this state of affairs will lead our children to
have doubts about themselves and their future, and contribute to a lack of
confidence in their ability to love and take on marital commitments.
reveals a sickness of the spirit that
has drawn away from the truth and an erroneous
anthropology; moreover, it reflects an unprecedented relativism and
skepticism. It shows that man is
tempted to close himself to the truth about himself and about love.
Before this danger, we must reaffirm our hope in the future and let
ourselves be guided by the realism that springs from the Gospel and profound
trust in God, without concealing the grave ills that threaten the young
generations. It is precisely to
disillusioned human hearts that we wish to bring a message of hope, and we
address our thoughts to those who will build the world in the third
millennium: our children!
Our work was
divided into two principal areas: theological and pastoral.
We made great reference to the resources of anthropology, sociology and
the human sciences.
Doctrinal and Theological Contributions
We have turned
our attention to human motherhood
and fatherhood. In the conjugal communion, the reality and dignity of both are
founded on divine fatherhood. The roles
of fathers and mothers are complementary and inseparable; they both presume
the creation of specific, interpersonal relationships between the parents and
the children. Every child has a right
to be born of a father and a mother joined in conjugal love.
beginning, motherhood implies special openness to the new person, in which the
woman finds herself in sincere self-giving.
Motherhood is closely linked to the personal structure of the human
being and the personal dimension of the gift.
A mother’s contribution is decisive in setting the basic foundations
of a new human personality. In motherhood, women’s dignity is fulfilled in
their sincere self-giving to their children. The
father’s task, which is often obscured, is of great importance in the
formation of the children’s personality and in the decisive choices
regarding their future. The father’s
presence in the home is a vital element in education because “fatherhood
and motherhood presume the coexistence and interaction of autonomous subjects”.
This reciprocal influence of the father and the mother is manifested in
the complementarity of the paternal and maternal roles in children’s
constitutes a natural reality that precedes any political organization or
juridical institution. Therefore,
the originality and identity of the family
based on marriage must be recognized
by the political authorities.
Placed between the private and public spheres, the family must not be
reduced to just one arbitrary contractual union among others that can be made
and undone at will. Marriage gives rise to an entirely original community, formed
by a man and a woman, which affects the present and future of society.
During the Congress, it was noted that there is unfortunately a
tendency today both on the national and international levels to weaken rather
than strengthen marriage and the family that results from it.
When the family is considered a precarious union of individuals, it
becomes more and more fragile.
The spread of
drugs, sexual promiscuity and other lifestyles contrary to the Gospel, which
are offered to children as a liberation or expressions of modernity, are in
reality a trap for many of them and disconcerting for their parents. This becomes a serious obstacle to discovering one’s moral
identity. It is necessary to
deepen the family’s educational
mission. To all this is often added a desolating emotional and educational
deficiency on the part of many parents. Since
children need affection and serenity, there is the risk that they will seek to
fulfill their deep desire for happiness along erroneous and alienating roads.
This danger must be prevented through dedication to a careful and
precise education that entails tackling the central problem of values and, in
first place, the shortcomings caused by a lack of formation in the faith.
Theological and Spiritual Considerations
We have made
extensive reference to the human sciences in order to understand a child’s
deep aspirations better. However, it is
the science of the faith that makes it possible to shed greater light on the
wonderful reality of our children. Children
occupy a privileged place in the family, the ecclesiola,
the small church, which is the Christian family.
Therefore, a substantial part of our work consisted in identifying
guidelines for an evangelization of
childhood. This is a difficult and
urgent task in a world where educational structures are often lacking. We have to help the young to become friends of Jesus and to
make the grace of their Baptism grow. By
giving witness to their self-giving to one another and to their children,
parents reveal the beauty of conjugal and paternal-maternal love in which a
spark of the infinite love of the Most Blessed Trinity shines through.
The family is
both the subject and the object of evangelization.
We recognize the task of the pastors of the Church whose role is so
important in building and guiding the People of God. In complete harmony with them, parents can carry out better
their own duty to evangelize their children on whom, to a great extent, the
evangelization of the family in the third millennium depends.
With its roots in Baptism, the family is a school of adult Christian
life. In the family Christians exercise
a baptismal priesthood in a particular way. Through
the sacraments of initiation, a person’s life is fully inserted into
the life of the Church and the foundations of every Christian life are set.
Christ acts through the sacraments and asks us to cooperate by
preparing our children for these ecclesial events in life.
The family is
the privileged place for the transmission of the faith, and it is also a
school of prayer. Children are
called to progress in the faith and to grow in grace.
Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist are very important moments in
family life. The Baptism of infants
manifests the gratuitousness of the grace of salvation in a particular way.
Parents have the task of nourishing the life that God has entrusted to
When this life is enriched through the special power of the Holy Spirit
in Confirmation, it reaches its ecclesial culmination in the Eucharist.
Through the power of the sacraments, the family renews in Christ the
sources of its commitment, witness and apostolic life in the life of the
Church. Sunday, the Lord’s day, is
characterized by the grateful and effective remembrance of God’s saving
The Word of God cannot be absent in family life.
Coming together around the Word of life thus becomes a privileged
occasion when the family, the domestic church, finds itself fully in the
Liturgy of the Christian community.
We launch a
unanimous call in this Jubilee Year 2000 to evangelization, reciprocal
forgiveness, conversion and sacramental
reconciliation. Without the
conversion of hearts, the difficulties to which families are exposed will be
accentuated, and the first victims will naturally be the children because they
are the weakest and most vulnerable links in the family chain.
Forgiveness within the family and between families renews the Christian
spirit of fraternal love. Mutual
forgiveness and humbly asking for forgiveness from Christ and the Church in
the Sacrament of Reconciliation are events of grace and salvation in which the
path of the family’s sanctification is realized together with its prayer
life. It is obvious that prayer life entails a very important
personal aspect and always requires an ecclesial aspect. The family, in fact, is an ecclesiola,
the first place for evangelization, the domestic sanctuary, where the family
prays together. In difficulties and
trials, Christ is discovered and turned to as both teacher and friend.
Through the joyous witness of prayer and Christian life, the family
becomes spiritual leaven for the Christian communities.
Family prayer is a central aspect of its vitality which contributes to
its stability. Children’s prayer, in
its purity and simplicity, calls to prayer reflection that can find
inspiration in the “little way” followed by Saint Theresa of the Child
Jesus. Children must find their principal aid in their parents so that at
the end of their adolescence, they will be capable of making a mature choice
of Christian life.
contributions provided the clarification needed for an analysis of concrete
situations and plans of action. These
analyses made up the second main pole of our work.
promotion and evangelization of children can only be carried out in the
context of the culture of life, in the structure of the civilization of love.
We were surprised in a positive way to see the number and the diversity
of initiatives in this area. This was
an occasion for us to perceive the multiform action of the Holy Spirit working
in hearts and in families.
Many recent initiatives aim at gaining recognition of the dignity of motherhood
which is often the victim of a cruel society or an unfavorable context. The
feminism of the 70s seems to have lost its impetus today and tends to be
replaced by an authentic feminism that asserts women’s rights as mothers. It also
seeks recognition of the mother’s irreplaceable contribution to the common
good and, at the same time, assistance for motherhood. In brief, the new feminism asks for recognition of women’s
own importance in society. “The personal resources of femininity are certainly
no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a
woman, as well as a man, must understand her ‘fulfillment’ as a person, her
dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the riches
of femininity which she received on the day of creation and inherits as an
expression of the ‘image and likeness of God’ that is specifically hers”.
When in families
mothers in particular do not have adequate
support for their educational task, spiritual guidance or even material
resources, then the cases of abortion and abandonment of the children
multiply. Some women conceive children of different fathers, whom they are not
able to raise, and the children are abandoned to themselves. The facts clearly
show that such children are later subject to abuse, exploitation and falling
into the snares of child prostitution, pornography and abhorrent pedophilia. Moreover, the sorrowful conditions of family life caused by
wars and misery are at the origin of grave and irreversible deficits in the
up-bringing of children who, without the protection and guidance of the
family, are left abandoned on the streets and exploited by criminals.
In this way they themselves become delinquents and even criminals, and
the girls often end up on the streets and in prostitution rings.
As a result, they are exposed to the risk of early pregnancy and to
contracting various sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.
Situations of this kind are frequent in the poor countries, but they
are not absent in rich countries. In
both cases, the root cause is the same: the moral crisis that is gripping many
families and the difficult situation in which parents are living.
aspects of this problem are of exceptional importance.
A decisive commitment is needed for the legal recognition of the rights of children.
First of all, there is the unborn
child’s right to life, to which abortion and the elimination of embryos
are opposed, regardless of the end which is hoped to be achieved through such
destruction. The very serious offences against children’s dignity must also
be stopped though appropriate legal provisions, both on the national and
international levels: sexual exploitation (such as the so-called “child sex
tourism”), and the violence of all kinds that is suffered by these weakest
human persons who are denied protection of their most fundamental human
rights. Aren’t these real and proper crimes
against humanity which ought to be recognized as such and punished, not
only in the place where they occur, but also in the countries of origin of the
authors of these crimes?
We were moved when we learned about a series of initiatives carried out in
extremely different contexts, all aimed at saving children from abandonment in
cases where both parents are deceased, or where the children are “orphans of
Adoption by married couples can
be a concrete testimony to solidarity and love.
In its gratuity and generosity, adoption is a sign that indicates how the world
should welcome children. Sterile
couples who choose adoption are an eloquent sign of exemplary conjugal charity.
Unfortunately, many couples are tempted to use immoral techniques of artificial
procreation which are part of the mentality of “a child at all costs” and
“a right to a child” that goes against divine Revelation regarding
procreation as a gift of God, and matrimonial sexuality as cooperation with God
Responsible parenthood implies a profound relationship with the moral order
established by God.
Mention should also be made of recent attempts to legalize adoptions by
homosexual persons, and this must be strongly rejected.
It is obvious that this is not the situation for authentic up-bringing
and personalizing growth. “The bond between two men or two women cannot
constitute a real family, nor much less can the right be attributed to a union
of this kind to adopt children without a family”.
With regard to foster care and adoption, the great principle to be
applied is always the child’s higher interests which much prevail over other
In considering family life, we examined the relationships
between generations, “the genealogy of the person is inscribed in the
very biology of generation” (Letter to
Families, n. 9). Great emphasis was
put on the contribution of grandparents to their grandchildren’s
communicate a life and faith experience with special tenderness, and today
they are often an important factor in evangelization, especially when, for
various reasons, the parents’ mission to transmit the faith is not carried
out. In the transmission of values, and religious values in
particular, the role of grandparents appears to be of fundamental importance
in view of an educational gap in this regard.
Children are a
precious gift for the family and for humanity in all the dimensions of its
human and Christian existence, and they are the hope for the future of society
and the Church. Keeping this in mind,
we present the following recommendations:
We appeal first of all with insistence to the public
authorities, both national and international to not transform children into
abstract, isolated, windowless and doorless “monads” whose rights have no
relation to their real situation of dependence and need for protection.
It is in the family that the rights of children are respected best, in
accordance with the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
The most effective way to protect children and their rights is to
protect first of all the family based on
marriage. At times the family is harmed by truly unjust laws and becomes
the victim of unfair fiscal or housing policies that are far removed from
We recommend that more requests be made to public
institutions to avoid any ambiguity in the definition
of the child and the family. In
particular, with regard to the legal definition of a child, the rights of the
child during its prenatal life must
be recognized. The International Convention on the Rights of Children also invites such
recognition when it states that because
of their weakness, children need special protection both before and after
birth. Therefore, from the
moment of conception, a human being must benefit from this protection.
The need for a complex norm to protect the various rights of the child
is necessary also because of the lack of a real family policy that is fully
guaranteed by law. Moreover,
efforts should be intensified to recognize the social role of the family based
on marriage which is irreplaceable for the common good.
We are troubled by the dramatic lack of esteem for motherhood in our societies.
It would seem that the value and dignity of women is based on their
paid profession and that otherwise they do not enjoy great social
consideration. The role of mothers as
such must be recognized because of the real and effective service they render
to society. Motherhood is not
just a job comparable to many other praiseworthy professions; it is much more:
it is a life lived at the service of a vocational task of the greatest
importance for individual persons, for the family and the whole of society.
Recognition of women’s role in society should not be considered a
conquest when it goes to the detriment of their maternal mission (cf. Laborem
exercens, n. 19 and Mulieris
dignitatem, n. 18).
It is necessary to heighten awareness regarding the
importance of the father’s role in
the family’s educational mission. This
strengthens and integrates the mother’s role in full cooperation for the
children’s development. This
role must surely be aided by educational structures, but it can never be
adequately replaced. The
father’s role is central in family life.
To belittle the father’s specific task is to destroy the children’s
identity as future spouses and parents. The
fear of transmitting life also finds an accomplice and a collaborator in the
loss of the father’s function.
With regard to the State’s protection of the
family, the true interest of the State coincides with that of the family and
of children. In fact, it is first
of all in the family where human capital
is formed on all levels: i.e., that marvelous resource which is the human
person educated to a sense of responsibility and a job well done.
This is what Pope John Paul II states in the Encyclical Centesimus
annus: “The first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology’ is
the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and
goodness” (n. 39).
The dignity of every child also becomes a pressing
appeal to the Christian communities, especially to the parishes, to follow the
families closely that have handicapped
children. The gift of these children should be recognized by the whole
Christian community as an inheritance from Christ on the Cross so that these
families, in Christian charity, will be encouraged and helped.
A specialized pastoral care is both necessary and urgent in order to
teach courageously to discover a gift of God in every child.
The call to conversion, albeit fundamental, cannot be
separated from educational and political commitment.
All Christian educational institutions are encouraged to review and
improve their role from the dual perspective of parents and children.
Contemporary pedagogues unanimously agree that the
integral education of children is inseparable from the on-going education of parents. The
poverty of families conditions the quality of education and makes it
difficult; therefore, any project for improving education must also take the
families’ economic level into consideration.
On the other hand, however, while economic difficulties can certainly
condition the possibilities for good formation, this cannot be a reason to
impede poor families from having children and benefiting from the qualified
educational contributions transmitted through Christian values.
We concluded the Congress filled with hope, in the framework and spirit of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. On the threshold of the third millennium, it is certain that families tend to put themselves on the defensive because they are committed in some countries and on various fronts, to fight in order to keep their social recognition. However, it is in this family –which some would like to see marginalized as something obsolete – that children come into the world, and it is in this family that new-born children find the best conditions for their development. Children represent the springtime, something that flourishes, something new. They are heralds of a promise: the renewal of the world in and through the family. Our children, the springtime of the family and society, are always a sign of hope for the world and for the Church.
This Theological-Pastoral Congress is inscribed in the context of the
Great Jubilee of the year 2000 and the Third World Meeting of the Holy
Father with Families, following the two preceding World Meetings: the
first in Rome in 1994, and the second in Rio de Janeiro in 1997.
The theme of the Congress that preceded the First Meeting was: The Family, Heart of the Civilization of Love; the theme of the
second Meeting in 1997 was: The
Family, Gift and Commitment, Hope for Humanity.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium
et spes, n. 24.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris
dignitatem, n. 18.
JOHN PAUL II, Gratissimam sane
(Letter to Families), n. 16.
Cf. Charter of the Rights of the
Family, Preamble, B,D.
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Dies
JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris
dignitatem, n. 10.
JOHN PAUL II, Gratissimam sane
(Letter to Families), n. 14.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Evangelium
vitae, n. 93.
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Cf. Ibid., n. 2377.
Cf. PAUL VI, Encyclical Humanae
vitae, n. 10.
 JOHN PAUL II, Angelus, 20-2-1994.