“The presence of large families is a hope for society,” Pope Francis said Sunday. “In a world often marked by selfishness, the big family is a school of solidarity and sharing, and these attitudes benefit the whole of society,” he said.
The Pope was meeting with the National Association of Large Families to commemorate the tenth anniversary of its founding. Marriage and the family have been a central theme in Francis’ pontificate, notably in the two major bishops’ meetings devoted to this topic, and in his decision to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September.
Speaking to the many children present, Francis assured them that each one of them is unique and “the fruit of love,” saying that “you come from love and grow in love.” He also told them, “You are unique but not alone!” and pointed out that “the fact of having brothers and sisters is good for you: the sons and daughters of a large family are more capable of fraternal communion from early childhood.”
The day chosen for this encounter was significant, as it marked the Christian feast of the “Holy Family,” that is, of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This feast is celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Christmas to underscore the importance of family life, both for Jesus’ coming into the world and for society.
Francis also underscored the importance of the extended family and gave a special shout-out to grandparents. He said that “the presence of grandparents is very important,” noting that it is invaluable both for the “practical help” they provide, and especially “for their contribution to education.” Grandparents, the Pope said, “preserve the values of a people and of a family, and help parents pass it on to their children.”
The Pope thanked the many parents present for their example of love for life, which “you hold onto from conception to natural death, despite all the difficulties and burdens of life.”
He expressed criticism, on the other hand, that the Italian Constitution, which asks for a particular attention to large families, “is not adequately reflected in actions, but remains in words.”
The Pope also mentioned Italy’s low birthrate, and he urged for greater support and encouragement of big families. “Each family is the cell of society,” he said, “but the large family is a richer, more vibrant cell, and the state has an interest to invest in it!”
The Pope ended his address by offering his congratulations and prayers for families, and he asked them to pray for him, “since I am, in a way,” he said, “the grandfather of all of you.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.