Pope Francis amid the travails and hopes of the families of the world

The pontiff opened the festival inaugurating the World Meeting in the Paul VI Hall, celebrated simultaneously in Rome and in the dioceses. The Church wants to be close to people wherever they are. Forgiveness, acceptance and fellowship among people from different religions living within the same domestic walls are expressed in Francis’ words and personal testimonies.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis welcomed on Wednesday evening in the Paul VI Hall the families who have come to Rome for the 10th World Meeting of Families, which is being held simultaneously in the Italian capital and in the dioceses of the world.

"I would like to make you feel my closeness right where you are, in the actual conditions of your life,” he said in his address.

During the Festival of Families opening the event, the pontiff listened to the testimonies of five families from different continents who found themselves taking "one step further" on their journey.

Francis listened to Serena and Luigi with their three children, who did not find “open arms to welcome them” in their parish but now felt called to marry in church.

"One does not get married to be labelled Catholic, to obey a rule, or because the Church says so,” the pope explained. “You marry because you want to base your marriage on the love of Christ, who is as firm as a rock.”

For the pontiff, “Family life is not an impossible mission. With the grace of the sacrament, God makes it a wonderful journey to undertake with Him, never alone. The family is not a beautiful ideal, unattainable in reality; God guarantees his presence in marriage and in the family, not only on the wedding day but throughout life.”

Speaking to Roberto and Maria Anselma, the pontiff saw holiness in those who embrace the cross. Their daughter, Chiara Corbella Petrillo, was a young woman who, a few years ago, at the cost of her own life, delayed cancer treatment in order not to endanger the life of her son Francis.

“In Chiara’s heart, God placed the truth of a holy life,” he said. She sought to preserve the life of her son with hers. As a wife, next to her husband, she walked the path of the Gospel of the family in a simple, spontaneous way. We always need great examples to look up to.”

However, the path towards holiness also needs overcoming crises and forgiving one another, as witnessed by Paul and Germaine, a Congolese couple. “No one wants a ‘fixed-term’ love,” Francis told them. “This is why we suffer a lot when shortcomings, negligence and human sins wreck a marriage.”

Yet, “even in the midst of the storm, God sees what is in the heart. Forgiveness heals every wound; it is a gift that flows from the grace with which Christ fills the couple and the whole family when they are allowed to act, when we turn to him.”

A couple that forgives each other are a great sign for their children who see humility but also “the power you have received from the Lord to pick yourselves up after falling. They really need this.”

At a time when Europe is engulfed in another tragedy, a testimony like that of Iryna and Sofia could be expected. A mother and daughter from Ukraine, they were forced to flee their homeland, eventually welcomed by Pietro and Erika into their home in Rome.

"War," the pope told them, “has forced you to face cynicism and human brutality, but you have also met people of great humanity. It is important for everyone not to remain fixated on the worst but to value the best, all the goodness every human is capable of, and start again from there.”

"Hospitality is precisely a ‘charism’ of families, especially large ones,” Francis added. “Some might think that a large household would be less likely to welcome others; in reality, that is not the case, because families with many children learn to make room for others.

“While those who are weaker are often rejected in anonymous situations; it is natural to welcome them in families: a child with disabilities, an elderly person in need of care, a relative in difficulty who has no one. . .”. This gives hope because "a society will become cold and unbearable without welcoming families.”

Lastly came the testimony of Zakia, a Muslim woman originally from Morocco, wife of Luca Attanasio, the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo killed just over a year ago in an ambush. They were an example of an interreligious family capable of giving itself to others, which is continuing through “Mama Sofia”, an association that Zakia and her daughters continue to run.

“In addition to being husband and wife, you lived as fellows in humanity, fellows with different religious experiences, fellows in social commitment,” Francis noted. “This is also a lesson that is learnt in the family. In the family, living together with those who are different from me, we learn to be brothers and sisters.”

For the Holy Father, these are five stories among millions, but God has a mission for every family in the world. “What ‘extra step’ does he ask of you? Listen to him, let yourselves be transformed by him, so that you too can transform the world and make it a ‘home’ for those who need to be welcomed, for those who need to meet Christ and feel loved.”