Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
I welcome you and I wish you well in your work in this plenary session of the
Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. And I thank Professor Zamagni for his kind
and insightful words.
You have focused your attention on the reality of the family. I appreciate this choice
and also the perspective from which you consider it, namely as a “relational asset”.
We know that social changes are altering the living conditions of marriage and
families all over the world. Moreover, the current context of prolonged and multiple
crises is putting a strain on the projects of stable and happy families. This state of
affairs can be responded to by rediscovering the value of the family as the source
and origin of the social order, as the vital cell of a fraternal society capable of caring
for the common home.
The family is almost always at the top of the scale of values of different peoples,
because it is inscribed in the very nature of woman and man. In this sense,
marriage and the family are not purely human institutions, despite the many
changes they have undergone over the centuries and the cultural and spiritual
differences between peoples. Beyond all the differences, there are common and
permanent traits that reveal the greatness and value of marriage and the family.
However, if this value is lived out in an individualistic and private way, as is partly
the case in the West, the family can be isolated and fragmented in the context of
society. The social functions that the family performs among individuals and in the
community are lost, especially in relation to the weakest, such as children, people
with disabilities and the dependent elderly.
It is a question, then, of understanding that the family is an asset for society, not
insofar as it is a mere aggregation of individuals, but insofar as it is a relationship
founded in a “bond of mutual perfection”, to use an expression of Saint Paul (cf. Col
3:12-14). Indeed, the human being is created in the image and likeness of God,
who is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8,16). The mutual love between man and woman is a
reflection of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves the human being,
destined to be fruitful and to be fulfilled in the common work of the social order and
the care of creation.
The good of the family is not aggregative, that is, it does not consist in aggregating
the resources of individuals to increase the utility of each, but it is a relational bond
of perfection, which consists in sharing relationships of faithful love, trust,
cooperation, reciprocity, from which derive the goods of the individual members of
the family and, therefore, their happiness. Understood in this way, the family, which
is a relational asset in itself, also becomes the source of many assets and
relationships for the community, such as a good relationship with the State and the
other associations in society, solidarity between families, welcoming those in
difficulty, caring for the least, combating the processes of impoverishment, and so
This perfective bond, which we might call its specific “social genome”, consists in
loving action motivated by gift, by living according to the rule of generous
reciprocity and generativity. The family humanizes people through the relationship
of “us” and at the same time promotes the legitimate differences of each one. This
– take heed – is really important in order to understand what is meant by a family,
which is not just an aggregation of people.
The social thought of the Church helps to understand this relational love proper to
the family, as I tried to do in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, following in
a great tradition, but also taking a step forward from it.
One aspect I would like to stress is that the family is the place of acceptance. We
don’t talk about it much, but it is important. Its qualities manifest themselves in a
special way in families where there are frail or disabled members. These families
develop special virtues, which enhance the capacity for love and patient endurance
in the face of life’s difficulties. We think of the rehabilitation of the sick, the
reception of migrants, and in general the social inclusion of those who are victims of
marginalization, in all social spheres, especially in the world of work. Integrated
home care for the severely disabled sets in motion a caring capacity in family
members that is able to respond to the specific needs of each individual. Think also
of families that generate benefits for society as a whole, including adoptive and
foster families. The family – as we know – is the main antidote to poverty, both
material and spiritual, as it is also to the problem of demographic winter or
irresponsible motherhood and fatherhood. These two things should be stressed. The
demographic winter is a serious matter. Here in Italy, it is a serious matter
compared to other countries in Europe. It cannot be ignored – it is a serious matter.
And irresponsible motherhood and fatherhood is another serious matter that must
be taken into account to help prevent it from happening.
The family becomes a bond of perfection and a relational asset to the extent that it
allows its own nature to flourish, both by itself and with the help of other people
and institutions, including governmental ones. Family-friendly social, economic and
cultural policies need to be promoted in all countries. These include, for example,
policies that make it possible to harmonize family and work; tax policies that
acknowledge family burdens and support the educational functions of families by
adopting appropriate instruments of fiscal equity; policies that welcome life; and
social, psychological and health services that focus on supporting couple and
parental relationships. […]