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  The Rio Declaration on the Family

We confidently proclaim the truth of the family, the Gospel of the Family, that is revealed when we consider the family as a gift, commitment and hope for humanity. We recognize the energies, resilience and creativity of the family that reflects God’s original plan as explained in the papal Magisterium, which has been greatly enriched by the Holy Father John Paul II, and a progressive doctrinal and theological deepening of the truth about the family and life that guides many reflections and efforts. From various pastoral aspects, a stimulating, pastoral mobilization is taking place in the Episcopal Conferences, Dioceses and parishes. Movements for the family and life are growing with greater strength and co-ordination in the face of the challenges and tasks.

We express our firm hope in the family, to which our Congress attests, although we take account of the major challenges that families are facing in our era.

1. The family in turbulent times

1.1 Although awareness is growing regarding some rights of the family which should be recognized and there are obvious signs of greater concern for the cause of the family, in the legislative area laws and codes needed to protect the family are lacking.

The importance of the family as the basic unit of society has been neglected by many governments and these have failed to undergird it as widespread urbanization, materialistic social trends, practical problems and the social acceptance of selfishness and irresponsibility contribute to the breakdown of families.

1.2 Today, unhappily, the family is subject to a kind of total hostility which does not only strike at one aspect or another but at the very conception of the family, the heart and meaning of the conjugal community. These are effects of an erroneous anthropological vision.

The integration of human sexuality into a serious, responsible and total self-giving open to life is often forgotten and substituted by self-centred, closed attitudes.

The devaluation of marriage, through easy divorce laws and circumstances that favour desertion and cohabitation, have resulted in an increasing multitude of helpless victims.

1.3 The lack of laws or the failure to apply existing ones fosters the sexual exploitation of children, increasing drug addiction and juvenile crime.

Single motherhood as well as low family wages oblige young mothers to seek work.

Abandoned children roam the streets while other children are abandoned at home.

Violence against women and children is rising. The practice and legalization of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia (against the aged, the terminally ill, the handicapped) strike at the very heart of the family, menacing today’s families with an encroaching culture of death.

1.4 For a great number of the world's families, their situation of extreme poverty, indeed of misery, is alarming and this situation hinders the normal development of the family community. Economic underdevelopment strikes families' possibilities in the areas of housing, education, hygiene, etc. The economic causes of suffering in the family cannot be ignored. In economic policies, seeking situations which will help families is an urgent priority. The problem of work outside the family, to which many women are obliged, has great weight along with their great difficulties in having and raising children and in finding time for family relationships and dialogue.

On the other hand, family breakdown is a major cause of poverty in many societies. In fact most of the world’s poor are women and children, who are often exploited in their poverty.

1.5 The family is under attack in many nations in what amounts to a war waged on the family at international and national levels. In this decade, at United Nations Conferences we have seen attempts to "deconstruct" the family, so that the very meaning of "marriage", "family" and "motherhood" is now contested. A false opposition has been set up between the rights of the family as a whole comprehensive unit, and the rights of the individual family members, particularly by opposing the rights of children and parents' rights.

Spurious "sexual rights" and "reproductive rights" are being promoted in the name of freedom, in an individualistic vision without any responsibilities and ties with the family, while in fact, these "rights" are mainly in the service of abortion and population control. The Church has warned about the risks involved in these attitudes.

1.6 Falling birth rates combined with rising numbers of dependent elderly people are producing an economic crisis and tensions between the generations. Elders are marginalized; cultural traditions are lost and the social fabric is weakened.

1.7 In some countries population growth is still high, often in situations currently without adequate economic and social resources. The greatest problem, however, is when children are born into such situations without the protection of constituted families.

1.8 Based on discredited scientific theories, a kind of feminism and a misguided environmentalism, a well-funded anti-family mentality and an anti-life ideology are being promoted at government levels by organizations and individuals who are often not democratically accountable. Thus the family is affected by new totalitarian tendencies.

As an effect of the lack of truth and respect for the natural law, interpretations are growing of "gender" whereby sexual identity is attributed to social and cultural factors. Moreover, proposals and even recommendations are being made in the legislative area which harm the very conception of the family as a community of life and love of a man and a woman open to life.

There are legitimate forms of feminism which seek to defend women’s dignity in the family but without severing women’s family bonds, also as daughters and sisters, or running into the risky preconception that family bonds, especially motherhood, are a kind of servitude.

1.9 In societies, especially rich societies, where consumerism and materialism have replaced human virtues, and where culture and education are "values free", the person is actually reduced to an object to be used. "Liberated" from the bonds of family and society, the lone individual, victim of a new form of alienation, is rendered vulnerable to all forms of dehumanization.

2. Nonetheless, in the face of all these challenges, many families are flourishing and the Catholic Church is committed to promoting their rights and their well-being. Although we recognize the difficulties which families are going through, they are like the pilgrim Church, the Church "amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God" (Lumen gentium, n. 8). We confidently proclaim that, in spite of unprecedented pressures, the family is and always will be a gift, a commitment and the hope for humanity!

2. The family as gift

Each day it is being discovered more and more that there is an anthropological conception at the basis of the family, also as a necessary reaction to the widespread crisis related to conceptual confusion (cf. Gratissimam sane, n. 8ff.). The truth about man, the image of God, and about the family that is reached by human wisdom is enriched and deepened by the faith.

With gratitude to the Lord, we proclaim some gifts of the family.

2.1 The family is the gift of God the Creator, his original project. The human person is lord of creation, but between man and woman the original relationship is not one of dominion but of self-giving and mutual service and in this way they become co-creators with God in the transmission of life. Thus the family is the fundamental gift to humanity. It is the first, natural, living cell of society, on which all other communities and societies are based and the first, living cell of the Church.

2.2 Family life is based on this mutual self-giving between husband and wife in marriage. The human person was created for self-giving love in God’s original project, which requires coherent fidelity in married love and the good of the whole spouse and includes both bodily and spiritual expression with dignity in a deep, marital friendship, as indicated in the biblical term una caro (Gn 2:24).

2.3 The family has received the gift of transmitting human life — motherhood and fatherhood — as the fruit of this love. Motherhood and fatherhood are blessed relationships not only with regard to the children but also for the mother and father themselves. He is father through the motherhood of his wife; she is mother through the fatherhood of her husband. The children are the most precious gift above all for the parents (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 50).

To separate the gift of life from the total conjugal love means impoverishing the very essence and meaning of the conjugal community.

2.4 Each child, each person, is a gift from God, created by God in his own image with innate dignity and rights from the very moment of conception until natural death. This inviolable dignity does not permit any graduality, as if there were some "qualities" of life which must be respected and others not. In fact the human person is harmed when he or she is set aside for any reason.

2.5 Family life is a daily gift that requires love, patience and sacrifice. But in this gift each day, even in its simple unfolding, there are dynamics of transcendence and decisive importance in formation, such as personalization or growth in humanity. It is a gift that binds the different generations in an endless chain of reciprocity and solidarity. It is the best school of humanity where the mutual gift of the parents pervades the whole home. Thus new members arise who are mature, respectful of others, grateful for solidarity that helps them live in charity.

2.6 The family is thus a necessary gift to society, to the whole of humanity. In this first school of the virtues, we learn respect for others, mutual aid and self-restraint. For this reason, the preceding Congress in Rome, with the theme "The Family: Heart of the Civilization of Love", urged us to build, starting from the family, the civilization of love.

2.7 The family itself is a gift for the Church in and for the new evangelization. The Christian family reveals the presence of the Saviour in the world and the nature of the Church, through love, generous transmission of life, unity and fidelity of the couple as through the co-operation of all its members (cf.Gaudium et spes, n. 48).

3. The family as commitment

God’s gifts entail responsibilities; we therefore acknowledge the following commitments.

3.1 The family epitomizes and requires mutual commitment. We call on family members to reflect on and renew this commitment to one another, to find time to be together, to communicate, to trust and to pray together.

3.2 The first commitment is marriage itself. This is closely connected with a well-conceived conjugal spirituality which is not intimist or closed but rather open to the full duties towards others in society. The spouses must rededicate themselves to one another and rediscover communication and mutual forgiveness. A positive sign of reaction is seen in movements aimed at promoting marital fidelity and openness to life.

We call on governments to legislate in support of binding marriage as a necessary value for the whole society.

On a conceptual level, in pastoral care, life in its integral conception (life that is generated and welcomed; life that is integrally educated) is bound to the family and is part of the raison d’être of the conjugal community. The family in conjugal love and for life has a decisive importance (cf. Evangelium vitae, n. 92) in forming the culture of life. Any separation of the unity of life within the family represents a risk that will be taken advantage of by those conspiring against the family and life.

3.3 The family is the "sanctuary of life". Its commitment to the protection and nurturing of life from the moment of conception is fulfilled through parenthood which is truly responsible. A culture that respects nature must begin by respecting the human person, who is at the heart of nature in a true "human ecology" (Centesimus annus, n. 38).

We denounce all public or private invasions of this sanctuary of love and life. We particularly call attention to new threats to procreation and human life, especially mass sterilization campaigns, which often deceive and exploit the poor.

3.4 We especially denounce programmes of "emergency contraception" being promoted among refugee women. This is in fact the promotion of abortion by a consortium of UN agencies and population-control groups. This is a great injustice to families who find themselves in tragic circumstances and involves great risks for women’s health.

3.5 More than ever the family needs to be committed to the unborn, the conceived, the "nasciturus". The welcome and protection of the weakest members of the human species manifest the quality and bonds of the family. We call for legal and social protection of the personhood of the unborn.

Families must be vigilant regarding "chemical warfare" (cf. Centesimus annus, n. 39), chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines in the inhuman war of abortion (abortifacients) (cf. Evangelium vitae, n. 13), and they must be prepared to reject new technologies that threaten the very concept of parenthood, such as the manipulation of gametes and cloning.

3.6 The commitment of youth to the culture of life must become a priority at all levels, beginning with education for life in the home and parish. Respect for young women as the future bearers of life should be promoted in all contexts and the abandonment of mothers by men must be censured.

3.7 We call for solidarity with families whose members are exposed to or struggling with drug addiction, for new strategies to support them, as well as greater support for movements committed to integrating those who suffer back into the family and society. The family is of central importance in the phenomenon of drug dependency both as a cause when it does not fully form persons, in its prevention, and also in liberation from this drama by means of values that give meaning to life. All forms of liberalization of drugs represent a threat to the family (cf. "Should ‘soft’ drugs be legalized? Pastoral reflections by the Pontifical Council for the Family", L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 19 February, p. 7).

3.8 The parents' commitment to educate their children brings responsibilities along with it. But parents have the right to choose the kind of education they want for their children, which makes it possible to speak, as St Thomas does, about families as the "spiritual uterus" (cf. S. Th. II-II, 10, 10). We reject the imposition of ideology on children, through programmes, models and methods which rob the parents of their right to be agents of education.

3.9 Providing an authentic education in human love and sexuality is the right and duty first of all of parents, to be carried out in the home, supported where necessary by others, such as in schools, but always under parental supervision and control. We recommend dissemination of the document by the Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, which is closely connected with the Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life. Parents must organize to resist efforts by the State, the media or population control groups that present erroneous models of sex education which corrupt their children.

3.10 Society must be committed to the family, but this can only be achieved once families themselves become the protagonists of family politics. Political action on behalf of families should be aimed at supporting child-raising families, with special attention to large families, in every area of social life.

We denounce legislation which discriminates against families or which interferes in family life in areas such as education, taxation, employment, health care, housing, etc. (cf. Charter of the Rights of the Family, 1983).

3.11 Commitment to poor families and abandoned children must be a social and political priority. Family poverty strikes women and children first. We call for justice for all families, but especially for solidarity with poor families and legislation to facilitate the adoption of children. Special attention should be given in the adoption of children to the principle of the "higher good" of children, without neglecting the rights of the natural parents.

We denounce projects to control the family size of the poor, with ideological projections influenced by Neo-Malthusianism, including refugee families and families under occupation. What these families really need is primary health care, education, effective legal protection, decent living conditions and economic justice. Large families should be helped and not represent the object of discrimination. The Popes invite opening up the banquet tables: "You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favour an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life" (Pope Paul VI, Address to the United Nations Assembly, n. 6; AAS 57 [1965], p. 883). Serious knowledge about demographic trends is needed to avoid falling into the trap of overpopulation myths.

Moreover, we call on politicians and legislators to aid large families, especially in situations where the population is decreasing.

3.12 We call on politicians, legislators, economists to commit themselves to build an economy for families, where the human person is always at the centre. Subsidiarity means that the family, not the State, not large organizations, must be given responsibility in managing and developing its own economy (cf. "Recommendations of the Meeting ‘The Family and Economy in the Future of Society' [Rome, 6-9 March 1996]" in Familia et Vita, I, 1/1996, pp. 86-91).

3.13 Commitment of faith in Jesus Christ binds the family together in unity, within the greater family of the Church.

We call on the clergy to build up the spiritual family of the Church through parish ministry to families, which includes teaching and preaching on the dignity of human life, marriage and the family. We recommend the systematic preparation of seminarians and the ongoing formation of clergy for the priority of family pastoral care in the parish and Diocese.

In pastoral action, we recommend developing an adequate organization of the Episcopal Commissions for the Family and Life, which already exist in the great majority of Episcopal Conferences, and in the organization of the Dioceses, so that there will be concerted action in this very important area. As the Holy Father stressed in his address to our Congress, "It is necessary to undertake a pastoral ministry in which the central truths of the faith radiate their own evangelizing power in the various areas of life, especially in that of the family" (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 October 1997, p. 4).

The pastoral care of children is an urgent matter. After careful study of the rights of children, we ask for in-depth action which will protect this great hope for new humanity.

3.14 A deeper spirituality of the family is needed to enrich the mutual commitment to Christ of all members of the community of life and love.

4. The family as hope for humanity

4.1 In these years leading to the third millennium, we echo the words of Pope John Paul II at the First World Meeting in Rome, 1994: "Families, you are gaudium et spes, joy and hope!".

4.2 Families offer the best hope for the plight of abandoned children, especially those on the streets of our great cities. We welcome movements that facilitate adoption and develop family models of care for these children. Moreover, we commend the generosity of families that adopt handicapped children.

4.3 Hope for poor families can be offered through the education of women, health care for children, but above all by more prosperous families who make a "preferential option for the poor" and for the disadvantaged.

4.4 We welcome the rapid advances in modern natural methods of regulating fertility as a pedagogy of love when there are serious reasons to distance births. We hope that these methods can be more widely spread around the world.

4.5 The various youth movements for life and the family are a great sign of hope for the world, not as the Church of tomorrow, but as an active force in the Church of today.

The apostolic movements for the family and life must increasingly integrate young people for their own, permanent invigoration.

4.6 We ask the movements to work together in harmony with the parishes in order to evangelize families and to form them in their own role of evangelization. Deeper understanding of the sacrament of marriage is enriching the faith and sacramental life of many families today. In this regard, we strongly recommend the document of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage.

4.7 We rejoice in the hope offered to broken families, especially single parents, through an evangelization that welcomes them into the community of the parish and recognizes that all families can evangelize, even in their brokenness. Appropriate pastoral ways should be sought to help the divorced and remarried who, in any case, are and remain members of the Church.

4.8 We hope for more ecumenical and interreligious co-operation on family and human life issues, such as in the Interreligious Colloquium on "Marriage and the Family in Today’s World" (Rome, 21-25 September 1994; see proceedings Marriage and the Family in Today’s World, Rome 1995).

4.9 We express our concern for the serious problem, particularly in some areas, of the family and the spread of sects (cf. La acción evangelizadora de la familia ante el desafío de las sectas, Santafé de Bogotá). We hope in the family’s evangelizing role in the face of this phenomenon.

4.10 The hope of a new evangelization by and for families is based on unity of faith and fidelity to the Church. Thus the Gospel of Christ, the good news of the family, will resound to the ends of the earth.

We express our heartfelt thanks to the Holy Father John Paul II for his tireless efforts in favour of the family in the Church and society and in support of human life in all situations.

May the Holy Spirit bring a renewal of our hearts as we prepare for the third millennium! Let us joyfully commit ourselves to work for a new era for families, strengthened by the Lord of Life who is the Lord of the Family!

We invoke the special protection of Our Lady, Regina Familiae, who bore the Saviour of the world in her womb.

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