Ladies and Gentlemen,
As President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, it is my great honor to welcome the Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Most Reverend Charles Chaput, the Mayor of Philadelphia, The Honorable Michael Nutter, and the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Tom Corbett, and all the members of the delegation that has come to Rome for the official start of preparations for the World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia from the twenty-second to the twenty-seventh of September in 2015. For myself, and on behalf of the Presidential Committee, the Members and the Consultors of the Pontifical Council for the Family, I thank them most sincerely for the welcome they are giving to this event that is extraordinarily significant in the life of the Catholic Church.
As we know, His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced the choice of Philadelphia at the conclusion of the two thousand twelve World Meeting of Families in Milan, and Pope Francis confirmed it in his Letter to Families dated February second of this year.
The Philadelphia Meeting will be held at a particularly important time for the Church. Pope Francis, in fact, has decided to focus all of Catholicism on the subject of the family. Last month, he called a Consistory, an official gathering of his Cardinals, to hear their advice on family concerns. Next October, he will preside over a Special Meeting of the Synod of Bishops to study the question of “The Challenges to Families in the Context of Evangelization;” and that same theme will be pursued in the Regular Meeting of the Synod scheduled for October of two thousand fifteen. Within that framework, it is particularly significant that our VIII World Meeting of Families will be held just before the October two thousand fifteen Regular Meeting of the Synod. Likewise, we cannot forget that this moment in the Church coincides with the process of analysis and discussion undertaken by the United Nations this year to celebrate the Twentieth Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, and we must not underestimate the fact of the geographic proximity between the ecclesial event taking place in Philadelphia and the debates being held in the headquarters of the United Nations in New York. That proximity is a providential call to religious and civil institutions to work together to bring a better future to all the families of the world.
The Philadelphia Meeting is looking first of all to gathering the Churches of the Americas, and it is encouraging participation by all the diverse cultures, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, that people these vast continents. In addition, there is no doubt that the presence on the Chair of Peter of the first Latin American Pope makes the event even more meaningful. The Pope who bears the name of Francis of Assisi, the saint of universal brotherhood, the Pope who was called “from the ends of the earth,” is already walking with us as we prepare for the two thousand fifteen Meeting. We see what he has already done just this past year: The Family Pilgrimage of the Year of the Faith last twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh of October; the twenty-first Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family three days before, which studied the Charter of the Rights of the Family on its thirtieth anniversary; the Meeting between the Pope and engaged couples in St. Peter’s Square for Valentine’s Day this past February 14; the Letter of the Pope to Families and the Consistory on the Family that I mentioned above. These are all milestones on a path that is being walked by men and women from all our churches in the world, nor can we fail to mention the questionnaire submitted to all the world’s dioceses to facilitate sharing in this journey.
The starting point and the guide for this journey is the one given to us by Pope Francis: “the beauty of the family and of marriage, the grandeur of a reality that is both simple and profound, a combination of joy, hope, burdens and suffering, just like the rest of life.” We will seek to deepen our understanding of the theology of the family and of the pastoral care that we must exercise in today’s world.” “All this we will do,” confirmed Pope Francis, “in depth and without tripping into that ‘casuistry’ that would inevitably diminish the value of our work.” The Holy Father emphasized that in today’s world the family is looked down on and treated badly and that what we are called on to do is make known how beautiful, and true and good it is to create a family, to be a family in today’s world, and how the world, and the future of all human kind, cannot do without the family. Our task is to show the world God’s shining plan for families, to help married couples live out that plan with joy, and to be there for them with a shepherd’s care that is wise, brave and full of love” (Pope Francis’ Opening Discourse to the Special Consistory on the Family, February twentieth, 2014)
This is what we will do as we look toward the Meeting in Philadelphia: we will be there for all the families of the world with a shepherd’s care that is “wise,” and “brave” and “full of love.” Wisdom in understanding what families face today, bravery in taking on today’s many and complex problems; and love in helping to resolve those problems in the light of the Gospel of the Family and of Life. We will deal with many issues in our wise, brave and loving work together: theology of the family, married spirituality and holiness, ecclesiology and pastoral care for families, the family in contemporary culture, immigration and the family, the family and ecumenism.
We would also hope that the Meeting in Philadelphia sees a broad and active presence from the other Christian Churches and communities, as well as from representatives of the world’s other Great Religions, together with other men and women who, though not religious, are committed to bringing peace and good will to our world. May our coming together for the family encourage all peoples to remember that we are one family of humankind and that it is together as a family that we must walk the path to true happiness.