Santiago de Cuba (AsiaNews) – Before his departure from Cuba for the United States at noon today (local time), Pope Francis dedicated his last activity to families. Only a few hundred families gathered in Santiago de Cuba’s cathedral, but the square outside (pictured) is filled.
In the warm farewell, amid flags, hymns but no official speeches, the pontiff thanked the families of Cuba. “Thank you, Cuban families. Thank you, Cubans, for making me feel part of a family, for making me feel at home”. However, he also spoke about societies that “are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform”, broken “family bonds, the loss of those relationships which make us who we are, which teach us to be persons”.
Noting that the family has been important for the Church since the times of Jesus, he told his audience that he would shortly take part in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and that in a month the Synod of Bishops would meet to discuss the family.
Francis began his address speaking about Jesus at the wedding in Cana and a family’s joy. “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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“I do not want to end without mentioning the Eucharist. All of you know very well that Jesus chose a meal to 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.”