Eschewing for the moment other topics such as poverty, the environment, and social justice, Pope Francis kicked off his pilgrimage through Central and South America with a series of reflections on the family and its importance for society.
In his typically folksy style, the Pope enumerated some of the characteristics of family life that make it a truly irreplaceable institution.
“The family is the nearest hospital,” he said, “when a family member is ill.”
“It is in the home that they are cared for as long as possible.”
“The family is the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly.”
“The family constitutes the best ‘social capital.’ It cannot be replaced by other institutions. It needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides.”
He also said the family is “foundational” to society and makes an essential contribution to the “common good.”
For the last months, Francis has spoken week after week about the family, in preparation for the major Vatican synod to be held this October on the topic.
In his homily at Mass on Monday in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the Pope made reference to the upcoming meeting, saying that through it, the Church would “deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions and help to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families today.”
Pope Francis used Jesus’ miracle of changing water into wine at Cana to speak of the “miracle” needed for families throughout the world. He asked for fervent prayers “so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, like the water in the jars scandalizing or threatening us, and turn it – by making it part of his ‘hour’ – into a miracle.” He added, “The family today needs this miracle.”
His reference to what “scandalizes” or “threatens” ignited a spate of speculation of what he might be referring to, which was eventually quelled by a clarification from Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
“The Pope hopes the synod will find a way to help people move from situations of sin to situations of grace,” said Father Lombardi. “He is not referring to anything specific.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.