One could feel the anticipation in the air as the crowds filed in hours early for the Festival of Families on Saturday night. For the thousands gathered from over 100 countries for the World Meeting of Families, this was what they had been waiting for all week – a visit from Pope Francis. What’s more, they knew this was the reason Pope Francis had come to the United States – to be with the families gathered for the World Meeting. They knew this moment would truly be something special.
And the Holy Father did not disappoint. The roar of police motorcycles ahead of his motorcade, and then the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, signaled that he had arrived, and the crowd erupted in shouts of joy. Riding the Popemobile through the streets surrounding the parkway, it seemed he visited the crowd from every side, and then took his place to cheers and applause.
Nestled within performances from world-renowned artists such as Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli and testimonies by families who had endured great struggle, was a gem of a spontaneous talk on the family, delivered by the Pope himself. He thanked the performers and families who had given testimonies, saying, “All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful brings us to God.” He then recounted a time when he was asked by a child what God did before he created the heavens and the earth. He said that at first he wasn’t sure how to answer, but then said, “Before God created the heavens and the earth, God loved, because God is love.” But the great love that existed among the three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity was so “overflowing” that God “ had to come out of himself so as to have that which he could live outside of himself.” And so, said Pope Francis, God created the world. “But the most beautiful thing that God made…was the family.” All of the love God has in himself “he gives to the family.” A family “is truly a family,” said Francis, “when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love.”
Pope Francis paused for a moment to acknowledge that the lofty language he was using to describe the family might sound unrealistic, given the daily struggles families face. He acknowledged that there are crosses to bear in family life, but added that just as with Jesus there was resurrection after the cross, so too in families. For this reason, said the Holy Father, the family is “a factory of hope.” Pope Francis concluded his talk by offering a word of advice to families for sustaining this hope: “Never end the day without making peace in the family.”
The following day at Mass, before an even larger crowd, Pope Francis again affirmed the goodness of family life. In a nod to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, to whom Pope Francis has a special devotion, he said “holiness is always tied to little gestures,” which “we learn at home, in the family.” He said that this is why our families “are true domestic churches,” because “they are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.” In closing, Francis again called families to “be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world.”
Dr. Joseph White is a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor.