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Pope Francis: Large Families That Welcome Children Are A True Gift From God

Diane Montagna - published on 01/22/15

Follows footsteps of predecessors, denies large families are cause of poverty

At this morning’s Wednesday General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis told the faithful that large families that welcome children are a true gift from God. He also said “we need to defend families from new forms of ideological colonization which threaten its identity and mission.”

In his words to pilgrims, Pope Francis said “it is a consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift from God. They know that every child is a blessing.”

Papal Precedent

Of course, Pope Francis is not the first pontiff to extol the virtue and happiness present in a large family. Previous pontiffs have also singled out large families for fulsome praise. One of the most eloquent reflections on the beauty and joy of large families came from Venerable Pope Pius XII, who in in speaking to Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy in July 1958 said: “Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church.”

In the same address, Venerable Pope Pius XII spoke of the “serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives”.  He said: “The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness, Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet fragrance of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren.”

The pontiff also described the manifold benefits of children having many siblings: “When there are many children, the youngsters are spared the boredom of loneliness and the discomfort of having to live in the midst of adults all the time. It is true that they may sometimes become so lively as to get on your nerves, and their disagreements may seem like small riots; but even their arguments play an effective role in the formation of character, as long as they are brief and superficial. Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding.”

Cause of Poverty?

Reflecting on the highlights of his recent apostolic journey to Sri Lanka and the Philippines at today’s Wednesday audience, Pope Francis drew special attention to his meeting with families last Friday in Manila. Some, he said, have suggested that “families with many children, and the birth of so many children, are among the causes of poverty.”

But this morning he called this opinion “simplistic”, and suggested that the real driver of poverty is an economic system which “has removed the human person from the center and has replaced him with the god of money.” 

“We are used to seeing people discarded,” he said. “This is the main reason for poverty, not large families.”

Senior Vatican Adviser for Communications, Greg Burke on Twitter today called the Pope’s remarks at the General Audience a "Rabbit-Reframe".

Here below we publish the full text of Pope Francis’ address.


Dear brothers and sisters,

Good morning. Today I will reflect on the Apostolic Journey to Sri Lanka and the Philippines that I made last week. Following my visit to Korea some months ago, I again went to Asia, a continent rich in cultural and spiritual traditions. The journey was a joy-filled encounter with the Catholic communities that bear witness to Christ in those countries. I confirmed them in the faith and in their missionary endeavors. I will always treasure the memory of the joyous welcome of the crowds — indeed, in some cases oceanic — that accompanied the defining moments of the visit. I also encouraged interreligious dialogue in the service of peace, and the journey of those peoples toward unity and social development, especially with the active involvement of families and young people.

The culminating moment of my stay in Sri Lanka was the
canonization of the great missionary, Joseph Vaz
. This holy priest administered the Sacraments, often in secret, to the faithful, but he helped all those in need without distinction. His example of holiness and love of neighbor continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka in its apostolate of charity and education. I pointed to Saint Joseph Vaz as a model for all Christians who today are called to propose the saving truth of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect for others, with perseverance and humility.

Sri Lanka is a country of great natural beauty whose people are seeking to rebuild unity after a long and tragic civil conflict. In my meeting with government authorities I emphasized the importance of dialogue, respect for human dignity, and the effort to involve everyone in finding suitable solutions ordered to reconciliation and the common good.

The different religions have a significant role to play in this respect. My meeting with religious leaders was a confirmation of the good relations that already exist between the various communities. In this context, I wished to encourage the cooperation already undertaken between the followers of the various religious traditions, also for the sake of healing with the balm of forgiveness those who still are plagued by sufferings of recent years. The theme of reconciliation also characterized my visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which is greatly venerated by the Tamil and Sinhalese populations and is a place of pilgrimage for members of other religions. In that holy place we asked our Mother Mary to obtain for all the people of Sri Lanka the gift of unity and peace.

From Sri Lanka I departed for the Philippines, where the Church is preparing to celebrate the 5th centenary of the arrival of the Gospel. It is the foremost Catholic country in Asia, and the Filipino people are well known for their deep faith, their religiosity and their enthusiasm, also in the diaspora. In my meeting with the national authorities, as well as in times of prayer and during the crowded closing Mass, I emphasized the continued fruitfulness of the Gospel and its ability to inspire a society worthy of man, where there is room for the dignity of each individual and the aspirations of the Filipino people.

The main purpose of the visit, and the reason I decided to go to the Philippines — the main reason — was to be able to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who suffered the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. I went to Tacloban, the region most severely affected, where I paid homage to the faith and resilience of the local population. In Tacloban, unfortunately, the adverse weather conditions caused another innocent victim: the young volunteer Kristel, who was overwhelmed and killed by scaffolding that had blown over by the wind. I also thanked all those from across the globe who have responded to their needs with a generous supply of aid. The power of God’s love revealed in the mystery of the Cross was made evident in the spirit of solidarity shown by the many acts of charity and sacrifice that marked those dark days.

The meetings with families and young people in Manila were defining moments of my visit to the Philippines. Good families are essential to the life of society. It is a consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift from God. They know that every child is a blessing. I have heard it said by some that families with many children, and the birth of so many children, are among the causes of poverty. This seems to me a simplistic opinion. I can say, we can all say, that the principle cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the human person from the center and has replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes, and excludes always: it excludes children, the elderly, young people without work — and that creates the throwaway culture in which we live today. We are used to seeing people discarded. This is the main reason for poverty, not large families.

Calling to mind the figure of St Joseph, who protected the life of the
“Santo Niño”
[the Holy Child], so greatly venerated in that country, I recalled that families, who are facing various threats, must be protected so that they may witness to the beauty of the family according to the plan of God. We also need to defend families from new forms of ideological colonization which threaten its identity and mission.

And it was a joy for me to be with the young people of the Philippines, to listen to their hopes and their concerns. I wanted to offer them my encouragement in their efforts to contribute to the renewal of society, especially through service to the poor and the protection of the natural environment. Care for the poor is an essential element of our Christian life and witness — I also mentioned this during the visit; it involves the rejection of all forms of corruption, because corruption steals from the poor and requires a culture of honesty.

I thank the Lord for this pastoral visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. I ask him to bless always these two countries and to confirm the fidelity of Christians to the Gospel message of our redemption, reconciliation and communion with Christ.

After his address, the Pope said to all the English-speaking pilgrims who were present:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including the various groups from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, New Zealand, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke grace and peace in the Lord Jesus. God bless you all!

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

Pope FrancisVatican
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