Pope Francis delivered this speech at the meeting with families in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption in Santiago de Cuba Tuesday:
We are here as a family! And whenever we come together as a family, we feel at home. Thank you, Cuban families. Thank you, Cubans, for making me feel part of a family, for making me feel at home, in these days. This meeting is like “the cherry on the cake.” To conclude my visit with this family gathering is a reason to thank God for the “warmth” spread by people who know how to welcome and accept someone, to make him feel at home. Thank you!
I am grateful to Archbishop Dionisio García of Santiago for his greetings in the name of all present, and to the married couple who were not afraid to share with all of us their hopes and struggles in trying to make their home a “domestic church.”
John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus worked his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, at a family party. There he was, with Mary, his Mother, and some of his disciples, taking part in a family celebration.
Weddings are special times in many people’s lives. For the “older folks,” parents and grandparents, it is an opportunity to reap the fruits of what they have sown. Our hearts rejoice when we see children grow up and make a home of their own. For a moment, we see that everything we worked for was worth the effort. To raise children, to support and encourage them, to help them want to make a life for themselves and form a family: this is a great challenge for all parents. Weddings, too, show us the joy of young spouses. The future is open before them, and everything “smacks” of new possibilities, of hope. Weddings always bring together the past which we inherit and the future in which we put our hope. They are an opportunity to be grateful for everything which has brought us to this day, with the same love which we have received.
Jesus begins his public life at a wedding. He enters into that history of sowing and reaping, of dreams and quests, of efforts and commitments, of hard work which tills the land so that it can yield fruit. Jesus began his life within a family, within a home. And he continues to enter into, and become a part of, our homes.
It is interesting to see how Jesus also shows up at meals, at dinners. Eating with different people, visiting different homes, was a special way for him to make known God’s plan. He goes to the home of his friends, Martha and Mary, but he is not choosy; it makes no difference to him if they are publicans or sinners, like Zacchaeus. He didn’t just act this way himself; when he sent his disciples out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God he told them: Stay in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide (Lk 10:7). Weddings, visits to people’s homes, dinners: those moments in people’s lives become “special” because Jesus chose to be part of them.
I remember in my former diocese how many families told me that almost the only time they came together was at dinner, in the evening after work, when the children had finished their homework. These were special times in the life of the family. They talked about what happened that day and what each of them had done; they tidied the house, put things away and organized their chores for the next few days. These were also times when someone might come home tired, or when arguments or bickering might break out. Jesus chooses all those times to show us the love of God. He chooses those moments to enter into our hearts and to help us to discover the Spirit of life at work in our daily affairs. It is in the home that we learn fraternity, solidarity, and not to be overbearing. It is in the home that we learn to receive, to appreciate life as a blessing and to realize that we need one another to move forward. It is in the home that we experience forgiveness, that we are continually asked to forgive and to grow. In the home there is no room for “putting on masks”: we are who we are, and in one way or another we are called to do our best for others.
That is why the Christian community calls families “domestic churches”. It is in the warmth of the home that faith fills every corner, lights up every space, builds community. At those moments, people learn to discover God’s love present and at work.
In many cultures today, these spaces are shrinking, these experiences of family are disappearing, and everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart. We have fewer moments in common, to stay together, to stay at home as a family. As a result, we don’t know how to be patient, we don’t know how to ask permission or forgiveness, or even to say “thank you”, because our homes are growing empty. Empty of relationships, empty of contacts, empty of encounters. Not long ago, someone who works with me told me that his wife and children had gone off on vacation, while he remained home alone. The first day, the house is completely quiet, “at peace”, and nothing was out of place. On the third day, when I asked him how things were going, he told me: I wish they would all come back soon. He felt he couldn’t live without his wife and children.
Without family, without the warmth of home, life grows empty, there is a weakening of the networks which sustain us in adversity, nurture us in daily living and motivate us to build a better future. The family saves us from two present-day phenomena: fragmentation (division) and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies which are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds, the loss of those relationships which make us who we are, which teach us to be persons.
The family is a school of humanity which teaches us to open our hearts to others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. Amid all the difficulties troubling our families today, please, never forget one thing: families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity. An opportunity which we have to care for, protect and support.
We talk a lot about the future, about the kind of world we want to leave to our children, the kind of society we want for them. I believe that one possible answer lies in looking at yourselves: let us leave behind a world with families. No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children, but this does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for families, true centers of humanity.
I do not want to end without mentioning the Eucharist. All of you know very well that Jesus chose a meal as the setting for his memorial. He chose a specific moment of family life as the “place” of his presence among us. A moment which we have all experienced, a moment we all understand: a meal.
The Eucharist is the meal of Jesus’ family, which the world over gathers to hear his word and to be fed by his body. Jesus is the Bread of Life for our families. He wants to be ever present, nourishing us by his love, sustaining us in faith, helping us to walk in hope, so that in every situation we can experience the true Bread of Heaven.
In a few days I will join families from across the globe in the World Meeting of Families and, in less than a month, in the Synod of Bishops devoted to the family. I ask you to pray in a particular way for these two events, so that together we can find ways to help one another and to care for the family, so that we can continue to discover Emmanuel, the God who dwells in the midst of his people, and makes his home in our families.