Papal Address to Focolare Families
"Your Task Is a Silent and Deep Commitment to Evangelization"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2007 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Nov. 3 address to the New Families Movement of the lay Catholic Focalare Movement.

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Clementine Hall Saturday, 3 November 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome and thank you for coming to visit me. You come from the five continents and belong to The New Families Movement which came into being 40 years ago in the context of the Focolare Movement. You are thus a branch of Focolare and today form a network of at least 800,000 families working in 182 nations, all committed to making their home a "focolare" [hearth] which radiates in the world the witness of a Gospel-style family life. I offer each one of you my most cordial greeting, which I extend also to those who have wished to accompany you at our meeting. I greet in a special way your leaders who have conveyed your common sentiments and described to me your Movement's working methods as well as its goals. I thank you for the greetings you have brought me from Chiara Lubich, to whom I send my warm good wishes, thanking her because she continues to guide the large family of the Focolare with wisdom and unswerving attachment to the Church.

As has just been recalled, it is precisely in the context of this vast and praiseworthy institution that you, dear married couples, place yourselves at the service of the world of families with an important and ever timely pastoral action that has four orientations: spirituality, education, sociability and solidarity. Your task is effectively a silent and deep commitment to evangelization with the goal of testifying that only family unity, a gift of God-Love, can make the family a true nest of love, a home that welcomes life and a school of virtue and Christian values for children. As you confront the many social and economic, cultural and religious issues that challenge contemporary society in every part of the world, your work, truly providential, is a sign of hope and an encouragement for Christian families to be a privileged "space" where the beauty of making Jesus Christ the focus and of faithfully following his Gospel is proclaimed in everyday life, sometimes despite many difficulties. Indeed, your meeting's theme: "A house built on the rock -- the Gospel lived, a response to the problems of families today", emphasizes the importance of this ascetical and pastoral itinerary. The secret is precisely to live the Gospel!

Rightly, therefore, in the work of the assembly during these days, in addition to contributions that illustrate the situation of today's families in the different cultural contexts, you have planned to deepen your knowledge of the Word of God and to hear the testimonies that show how the Holy Spirit acts in hearts and in family life, even in complex and difficult situations. Only think of the uncertainties of engaged couples as they face definitive decisions for the future, of the crisis of couples, of separations and divorces as well as irregular unions, of the condition of widows, of families in difficulty and of welcoming abandoned minors. I warmly hope that also thanks to your commitment, pastoral strategies may be identified to cope with the increasing needs of families today and the multiple challenges that face them, so that they will not fail in their special mission in the Church and in society.

In this regard, in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Christifideles Laici," my venerable and beloved Predecessor John Paul II noted that the Church maintains that for the faithful, "the first and basic expression of the social dimension... is the married couple and the family" (n. 40). To bring this vocation to fruition, the family, aware that it is the primary cell of society, must not forget that it can find strength in a Sacrament desired by Christ to reinforce the love between man and woman: a love understood as a gift of self, reciprocal and profound. As John Paul II likewise observed: "The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church, his Bride" ("Familiaris Consortio," n. 17). Thus, according to the divine plan, the family is a sacred and sanctifying place and the Church, which has always been close to the family, supports it in this mission, especially today when the internal and external threats to it are so numerous. In order not to succumb to discouragement, divine help is essential; thus, every Christian family must look with trust to the Holy Family, the original "domestic Church" in which "through God's mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families" (ibid., n. 45).

Dear brothers and sisters, the humble and holy Family of Nazareth, the icon and model of every human family, will not let you go without its heavenly support. Nonetheless, your ceaseless recourse to prayer, to listening to the Word of God and to an intense sacramental life is indispensable, together with a constant effort to live Christ's commandment of love and forgiveness. Love does not seek its own interests, it does not harbour rancour for evil received but rejoices in truth. Love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (I Cor 13: 5-7). Dear brothers and sisters, continue your journey and be witnesses of this Love which will make you increasingly the "heart" and "leaven" of the entire New Families Movement. I assure you of my remembrance in prayer for each one of you, for your activities and all those you meet in your apostolate, and with affection I now impart to you all the Apostolic Blessing.


Archbishop Naumann on Benedict XVI and the Family
Interview With Kansas City Prelate

KANSAS CITY, Kansas, JUNE 11, 2006 ( Benedict XVI's trip to Spain for the World Meeting of Families next month will only confirm the pontiff's evident concern for the renewal of the family.

So says Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, a member of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family.

Archbishop Naumann, 57, shared with ZENIT how the Pope has shown that the state of the family is a priority during the first year of his pontificate.

Q: Pope Benedict XVI has made few international trips, but he has decided to be present at the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Valencia. What does it tell us about the importance he places on the family?

Archbishop Naumann: His decision to attend the World Meeting of Families is a public affirmation of the invaluable worth he places on the family. We have already seen in just the year since his election that renewing the family is a priority of his pontificate.

His first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," gives much attention to the love between a man and a woman, how human love, especially eros, must be connected to divine love and the good of children, and the important role of love in the public life.

And since the family is the first school of love, we can infer that a healthy family is essential to a healthy society.

With all of this is Pope Benedict's constant interest in uniting questions of the social order with a vigorous pursuit of truth. To be a well-ordered society the truth of the family must be upheld.

So, his decision to attend the World Meeting of Families is consistent with his interest in defending the proper relationship between truth and love within the family.

Q: Does the Pope have a "theology of the family"?

Archbishop Naumann: I would not necessarily say that Pope Benedict XVI has his own theology of the family, but that he teaches with unique clarity the mind of the Church.

His new role as the universal pastor of the Church means that he is not out to suggest his own way of thinking, but to simply propose in new ways what the Church already believes.

Pope Benedict's teaching on marriage and family is obviously consistent and in harmony with the teaching of Pope John Paul II. We must, therefore, read Pope Benedict within the context of John Paul II.

If anyone hopes to understand the mind of Pope Benedict relative to the family, he or she needs to spend time with the writings of Pope John Paul II, especially "Familiaris Consortio" and his "Letter to Families."

That being said, Pope Benedict is making some important applications, especially as to the situation in Europe, about the decline of the family's unique role in culture, and how a European culture separated from its Christian roots is harmful to family life.

He recently affirmed that marriage is one of the issues that Catholics cannot allow any compromise. This should not be surprising, but it does suggest that this issue is very much something that concerns him.

Q: Is there anything in the then Cardinal Ratzinger's writings or background that may provide a clue to his pastoral plan at the meeting?

Archbishop Naumann: Again, I would first suggest that we can get insight into Cardinal Ratzinger's thinking by looking at the writings of Pope John Paul II.

As prefect for Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger reviewed and contributed to the official writings of John Paul II. The two of them had a very close relationship and it is reasonable to think that they influenced each other.

Aside from his collaborations with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict spoke many times with his own voice about the dignity of marriage and family.

A few years ago, when then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the Italian Senate, he identified three areas of concern for Europe -- one of which was the legal status of the family. He argued that Europe would no longer be Europe if the status of the family was essentially changed.

From this I think it is safe to assume that he will vigorously defend a Christian understanding of the family. Christian people have a responsibility to stand against the dissolution of marriage and the family, and I imagine the Pope will remind the Church of her role as a defender of the family.

We see in his motto, "cooperators veritatis," that he is especially concerned with truth. He believes the family, as well as being a place of love, is called to be a school of truth.

Civilization must be founded on truth, and it is within the Christian family that truth is first lived and experienced. The relationship of the family to truth and love within culture is a theme that he has touched on in the past; whether he brings it up explicitly, it colors his entire approach to the subject.

Q: It appears that the nations of Europe are aggressively trying to redefine the family. What can philosophers and theologians do to combat this trend?

Archbishop Naumann: This is a critical issue facing the Church today. More and more, traditional marriage is under attack in Europe.

The European Union, in particular, is pressuring all its members into abandoning the traditional definition of marriage and family. Europe is turning into a culture that is growing more hostile toward traditional marriage -- not just in practice but also in law.

Pope Benedict has said, however, that either Europe is Christian or there is no Europe. The fight for the family, which is part of the fight for Europe's Christian identity, will determine whether Europe continues to exist as we know it.

It is the responsibility of the laity to engage the emerging European culture and political order to remind Europe of its heritage and the dangers of abandoning the values that held Western civilization together through some very difficult periods of history.

Philosophers and theologians must show the errors of an absolute secularization of European culture and provide coherent reasons to protect the family from being redefined into nonexistence.

Europe has tragically suffered through countless wars, but the cultural war we see today and the growing widespread antagonism toward Christianity imperils the very soul of Europe in ways that Europe has to date been able to resist.

This is no more evident than in the battle for marriage and the family, which is seen in the growing societal acceptance of anti-family forces such as contraception, divorce and homosexuality.

It is up to the Church, especially those who can influence the public debate, to fight against a secular Europe, and uphold the dignity of traditional, Christian values.

Q: The Pope has made several pronouncements criticizing same-sex unions. What are his reasons behind his conviction that they are not an acceptable form of the family?

Archbishop Naumann: Same-sex unions are not marriages. The attempt to put same-sex unions on equal footing with marriage is a direct attack on the family, and the Pope is right to speak out aggressively in defense of traditional marriage.

Marriage, by its natural purpose, is directed toward the complementary union of the man and the woman and the gift of children; homosexual relationships seek to remove sexuality from these goods.

Marriage is not a convenient arrangement by which two individuals seek self-gratification. It is ordered toward the gift of self, both in the form of the spouses to each other and in the raising of children.

Same-sex unions are a violation on the moral order. The premise of same-sex union is homosexual activity of the participants. Homosexual activity violates the natural law, clear biblical teaching and the consistent teaching of the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The effort to give societal approval to same-sex unions, consciously or unconsciously, undermines traditional marriage by equating it with sinful behaviors. While in fact, traditional marriage is an opportunity to imitate the love of Jesus for his spouse the Church.

Q: How do you think Pope Benedict conceives of the family's role in the re-evangelization of Europe?

Archbishop Naumann: My impression is that he believes that there cannot be a re-evangelization of Europe without a defense and renewal of the family. The two are intimately connected.

His encyclical suggests that love is the source for hope. If there is to be a re-evangelization of Europe it will come through love, which is born from the family.



 VATICAN CITY, JUN 9, 2006 (VIS) - Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano sent a message, in the Holy Father's name, to participants in the 36th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), which closed on June 6 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

  The principle theme of the assembly, the message says, "is the dignity of human beings and the absolute value of human life from conception to natural end." On this subject, the cardinal recalls how the American continent "has a long tradition of respecting life, now threatened by the pressure of opinions contrary to its nature."

  "In the field of protecting human dignity," he writes, "another priority is to favor the conditions that reduce violence in its various forms: terrorism, attacks against innocent civilians, kidnappings, threats and drug trafficking."

  Cardinal Sodano identifies another essential theme associated with that of human dignity: "The promotion of the family based on marriage. Promoting the family is an essential task for the development of society throughout the continent. The family is a place of education, knowledge, and of the basic formation of the future protagonists of social life. For this reason, the principal entity that States must protect and promote is the family."

  "The role played by parents is fundamental," the message continues, "and it cannot be replaced by the State or by any other institution, which are a necessary and very beneficial complement but do not substitute the primordial role of parents, who must also choose the kind of education they want for their children."

  After highlighting that the family "cannot adequately carry out its mission if it does not have the minimum material requirements to do so, the cardinal secretary of State deplored "the persistence, at times aggravated persistence, of poverty, and the growing gap between the richest and the poorest."

  "It is not only a matter of fairer distribution of what is available, but also of improving production conditions and of seeking new ways to develop in peace and harmony for all. In this context. the Church's social doctrine offers a framework for laying the foundations of a society that has at its center man, not money or ideology."

  Cardinal Sodano concludes his message by making a call "to continue down the path of constant dialogue between States," it being one of the OAS's functions "to guarantee such dialogue. The vast majority of inhabitants of the OAS countries are Christians, and Christian roots can make a decisive contribution to the social and political life of American States."


Promoting the 'Gospel of the family and of life'  (May 13, 2006)

On Saturday, 13 May, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, the Holy Father spoke to participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The following is a translation of his Address in Italian.

Your Eminences,
Reverend Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It gives me great pleasure to meet you at the end of the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for the Family, created by my Venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, on 9 May 1981, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in these days. I address my cordial greeting to each one of you with a special thought for Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, whom I thank for having interpreted your common sentiments.

This meeting has given you an opportunity to examine the challenges and pastoral projects concerning the family, rightly considered a domestic church and a sanctuary of life. It is a vast, complex and delicate field of apostolate to which you devote energy and enthusiasm, with the intention of promoting the "Gospel of the family and of life". In this regard, how can we forget the broad and far-sighted vision of my Predecessors and especially of John Paul II, who have courageously promoted the cause of the family, considering it a decisive and irreplaceable value for the common good of the peoples?

The family, founded on marriage, is the "patrimony of humanity", a fundamental social institution; it is the vital cell and pillar of society and this concerns believers and non-believers alike. It is a reality that all States must hold in the highest regard because, as John Paul II liked to repeat, "the future of humanity passes by way of the family" (Familiaris Consortio, n. 86).

Love open to life

In the Christian vision, moreover, marriage, which Christ raised to the most exalted dignity of a sacrament, confers greater splendour and depth on the conjugal bond and more powerfully binds the spouses who, blessed by the Lord of the Covenant, promise each other faithfulness until death in love that is open to life.
For them, the Lord is the centre and heart of the family. He accompanies them in their union and sustains them in their mission to raise children to maturity. In this way the Christian family not only cooperates with God in generating natural life, but also in cultivating the seeds of divine life given in Baptism. These are the well-known principles of the Christian view of marriage and the family. I recalled them once again last Thursday, when I spoke to the members of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

In today's world, where certain erroneous concepts concerning the human being, freedom and love are spreading, we must never tire of presenting anew the truth about the family institution, as God has desired it since creation. Unfortunately, the number of separations and divorces is increasing. They destroy family unity and create numerous problems for children, the innocent victims of these situations. In our day it is especially the stability of the family that is at risk; to safeguard it one often has to swim against the tide of the prevalent culture, and this demands patience, effort, sacrifice and the ceaseless quest for mutual understanding. Today, however, it is possible for husbands and wives to overcome their difficulties and remain faithful to their vocation with recourse to God's support, with prayer and participating devotedly in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The unity and strength of families helps society to breathe the genuine human values and to be open to the Gospel. The apostolate of many of the Movements called to work in this context in harmonious understanding with the dioceses and parishes contributes to this.

Respect for embryonic life

Furthermore, a particularly sensitive topic today is the respect due to the human embryo, which ought always to be born from an act of love and should already be treated as a person (cf. Evangelium Vitae, n. 60). The progress of science and technology in the area of bioethics is transformed into a threat when human beings lose the sense of their own limitations and, in practice, claim to replace God the Creator. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae reasserts clearly that human procreation must always be the fruit of the conjugal act with its twofold unitive and procreative meaning (cf. n. 12).

The greatness of conjugal love in accordance with the divine plan demands it, as I recalled in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est:  "Eros reduced to pure "sex', has become a commodity, a mere "thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity.... Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body" (n. 5).

Thanks to God, many, especially young people, are rediscovering the value of chastity, which appears more and more as a reliable guarantee of authentic love. The historical period in which we live asks Christian families to witness with courageous coherence to the fact that procreation is the fruit of love. Such a witness will not fail to encourage politicians and legislators to safeguard the rights of the family. Indeed, it is well known that juridical solutions for the so-called "de facto" unions are gaining credibility; although they reject the obligations of marriage, they claim enjoyment of the same rights.

Furthermore, at times there are even attempts to give marriage a new definition in order to legalize homosexual unions, attributing to them the right to adopt children. Vast areas of the world are suffering from the so-called "demographic winter", with the consequent gradual ageing of the population. Families sometimes seem ensnared by the fear of life and of parenthood. It is necessary to restore their trust, so that they can continue to carry out their noble mission of procreation in love. I am grateful to your Pontifical Council because at various continental and national meetings, it seeks to enter into dialogue with those who have political and legislative responsibility in this regard, as it also strives to set up a vast network of conversations with Bishops, offering the local Churches the opportunity of courses for those with pastoral responsibilities.

Next, I take this opportunity to repeat my invitation to all the diocesan communities to take part with their delegations in the Fifth World Meeting of Families that will take place next July in Valencia, Spain, and in which, please God, I will have the joy of participating.

Thank you again for your work; may the Lord continue to make it fruitful! For this I assure you of my remembrance in prayer while, invoking Mary's motherly protection, I impart to all of you my Blessing, which I willingly extend to families so that they will continue to build their homes on the model of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

(©L'Osservatore Romano - 24 May 2006)

Benedict XVI's Address to John Paul II Institute
"Authentic Love Is Transformed Into a Light"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 11, 2006 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today when receiving participants in the congress promoted by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

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Lord Cardinals,
Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters:

With great joy I meet with you on this 25th anniversary of the foundation of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, in the Pontifical Lateran University. I greet you all with affection and I offer my heartfelt thanks to Monsignor Livio Melina for the kind words he addressed to me in your name.

The beginnings of your institute are related to a very special event: precisely on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square, my beloved predecessor, John Paul II, suffered the well-known grave attempt on his life during the audience in which he should have announced the creation of your institute. This event is of special importance in the present commemoration, which we celebrate shortly after the anniversary of his death. You wished to highlight it through the appropriate initiative of a congress dedicated to the theme "The Legacy of John Paul II on Marriage and the Family: to Love Human Love."

With reason you feel this legacy in a totally special manner, as you are the recipients and continuators of the vision that was one of the pivots of his mission and reflections: God's plan for marriage and the family. It is a legacy that is not simply an ensemble of doctrines and ideas, but is, above all, a teaching gifted with a luminous unity on the meaning of the human love of life. The presence of numerous families in this audience is a particularly eloquent testimony of how the teaching of this truth is accepted and has borne fruits.

The idea to "teach to love" was already with the young priest Karol Wojtyla and subsequently energized him, as a young bishop, when he faced the difficult moments that followed the publication of the prophetic and always timely encyclical of my predecessor Paul VI, "Humanae Vitae." It was in that circumstance that he understood the need to undertake a systematic study of this topic.

This constituted the substratum of that teaching that he later offered to the whole Church in his "Catechesis on Human Love." He underlined in this way the two fundamental elements that you have tried to reflect on more profoundly in these years and that configure the very novelty of your institute as an academic reality with a specific mission within the Church.

The first element is that marriage and the family are rooted in the innermost core of the truth about man and his destiny. Sacred Scripture reveals that the vocation to love is part of that authentic image of God that the Creator willed to imprint in his creature, calling man to become similar to him precisely in the measure in which man is open to love. The sexual difference entailed in the body of man and woman is not, therefore, a simple biological fact, but bears a much more profound meaning: It expresses that way of love with which man and woman become only one flesh; they can realize an authentic communion of persons open to the transmission of life and cooperate in this way with God in the procreation of new human beings.

A second element characterizes the novelty of John Paul II's teaching on human love: his original way of reading God's plan in the convergence between revelation and human experience. In Christ, in fact, fullness of the revelation of the Father's love, is also manifested the full truth of man's vocation to love, which can only be found fully in the sincere giving of oneself.

In my recent encyclical I wished to underline how, precisely, through love "the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny" is expressed ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 1). That is, he made use of the way of love to reveal the mystery of his Trinitarian life.

In addition, the profound relationship that exists between the image of God-Love and human love enables us to understand that "monogamous marriage corresponds to the image of the monotheist God. Marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship of God with his People and vice versa, God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love" (ibid., No. 11). This indication still remains to a large extent to be explored.

In this way the task is outlined that the Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family has in the whole of its academic structures: to illuminate the truth of life as a way of plenitude for all forms of human existence. The great challenge of the New Evangelization, which John Paul II proposed with so much drive, needs to be supported with a profound authentic reflection on human love, as this love is a privileged way that God has chosen to reveal himself to the world and in this love he calls it to communion in the Trinitarian life.

This approach also enables us to overcome a conception enclosed in merely private love, which is so widespread today. Authentic love is transformed into a light that guides the whole of life toward plenitude, generating a humanized society for man. The communion of life and love, which is marriage, becomes in this way an authentic good for society. To avoid the confusion with other types of unions based on weak love is something especially urgent today. Only the rock of total and irrevocable love between man and woman is capable of being the foundation of a society that becomes a home for all people.

The importance that the work of the institute entails in the mission of the Church explains its own configuration: In fact, John Paul II had approved only one institute with different premises spread over the five continents, with the objective of being able to offer a reflection that shows the wealth of the only truth in the plurality of cultures.

This unity of vision in research and teaching, despite the diversity of places and sensitivities, represents a value that you must guard, developing the riches rooted in every culture. This characteristic of the institute has demonstrated itself to be particularly appropriate for the study of a reality such as marriage and the family. Your work can show how the gift of creation lived in the different cultures has been elevated to grace of redemption by Christ.

To be able to carry out your mission well as faithful heirs of the institute's founder, our beloved John Paul II, I invite you to contemplate Mary Most Holy, as the Mother of Beautiful Love. The redeeming love of the incarnate Word must become for each marriage and each family "fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world" ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 42). To all of you, dear professors, students of yesterday and today, to all the staff, as well as the families of your Institute, I express my best wishes, accompanied by a special blessing.



VATICAN CITY, JAN 12, 2006 (VIS) - This morning, Benedict received Piero Marrazzo, president of the regional administration of Lazio, Italy; Walter Veltroni, mayor of the city of Rome; and Enrico Gasbarra, president of the provincial administration of Rome, for the traditional exchange of New Year greetings.

In his address to the three men and their entourages, the Pope highlighted how the people of Rome and Lazio had clearly expressed their affection for John Paul II during the period of his final illness and death. He also thanked the authorities and institutions for their "great contribution" in welcoming the millions of people who came to Rome "to pay their final homage to the lamented Pontiff, and on the occasion of my own election to the See of Peter."

That "profound spiritual experience of faith and of prayer, of brotherhood and of rediscovery of the things that make our lives worthwhile and rich in meaning," must also bear fruit within "the civil community, its duties and its multiple responsibilities and relationships."

Going on to refer to the family, the Holy Father recalled that for three years it has represented the central focus of the pastoral activities of the diocese of Rome, "in order to help [the family] face the reasons behind the crises and distrust present in our own culture, giving it a clearer and firmer awareness of its own nature and tasks."

Benedict XVI then recalled the words he had used in June 2005 during the congress of the diocese of Rome, to the effect that "marriage and the family are not in fact a chance sociological construction, the product of particular historical and financial situations. On the other hand, the question of the right relationship between man and woman is rooted in the essential core of the human being and it is only by starting from here that its response can be found. ... Marriage as an institution is thus not an undue interference of society or of authority. The external imposition of form on the most private reality of life is instead an intrinsic requirement of the covenant of conjugal love."

He continued: "What we are talking about here are not norms particular to Catholic morals, but elementary truths that concern our shared humanity. To respect them is essential for the good of the individual and of society. These truths, then, appeal both to your responsibility as public administrators and to your normative duties."

The Pope referred to the need to support young couples in forming a family and in educating their children, bearing in mind the cost of rent and of nursery schools, adding: "It is a grave error to obscure the value and the functions of the legitimate family based on marriage, attributing to other forms of union inappropriate forms of legal recognition, for which there is no real social need."

The Holy Father also asked that attention be given to "the protection of nascent human life," that there be no lack of "concrete assistance" to pregnant women experiencing difficulties, and that there be no introduction of drugs "that hide in one way or another the severity of abortion as a choice against life. In an aging society," he added, "help for the elderly and all the complex problems concerning the health care of citizens become ever more important."

After encouraging the administrators to continue with the efforts they are making in these matters, Benedict XVI stressed that "continuous scientific and technological developments in the field of healthcare and the commitment to contain costs should be promoted while maintaining firm the principle of the central importance of the sick person."

In the face of so many "cases of psychological suffering and illness," the Holy Father stressed the importance of giving "adequate help to families who often find themselves having to face extremely difficult situations." He concluded by expressing his satisfaction at the "growth over these years of various forms of collaboration between ecclesial volunteer organizations and the public administration of Rome city, province and region in the work of alleviating old and new forms of poverty which, unfortunately, afflict


Marriage: "Patrimony of Humanity"
Papal Address to Latin American Bishops' Meeting

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the message Benedict XVI gave Dec. 3 to the 3rd Meeting of the Presidents of the Episcopal Commissions for the Family and Life of Latin America. The meeting in Rome was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family.

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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to receive you on the occasion of the Third Meeting of the Presidents of the Episcopal Commissions for the Family and Life of Latin America. I should like to express my gratitude for the words addressed to me by Cardinal Alfonso Lóópez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Together with the whole Church, I witnessed Pope John Paul II's concern for this most important topic. For my part, I make my own this same concern, which will have a far-reaching effect on the future of the Church and the peoples since, as my Predecessor said in his apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio": "The future of humanity passes by way of the family!"

"It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and requirements of the family." And he added: "Christians also have the mission of proclaiming with joy and conviction the 'Good News' about the family, for the family absolutely needs to hear ever anew and to understand ever more deeply the authentic words that reveal its identity, its inner resources and the importance of its mission in the City of God and in that of man" (Conclusion, No. 86).

The apostolic exhortation cited together with the Letter to Families "Gratissimam Sane" and the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" constitute, as it were, a luminous triptych that must inspire your task as pastors.

2. I wish to thank you in particular for your pastoral concern which seeks to safeguard the fundamental values of marriage and the family. They are threatened by the current phenomenon of secularization that prevents the social conscience from discovering adequately the identity and mission of the family institution and recently, by the pressure of unjust laws that fail to recognize its fundamental rights.

In light of this situation, I am pleased to note the increase in and consolidation of the particular Churches' work for this human institution, which is rooted in God's loving plan and represents the irreplaceable model for the common good of humanity. Homes that give a generous response to the Lord abound and there is also a wealth of pastoral experiences, a sign of new vitality, in which family identity is reinforced by means of better marriage preparation.

3. Your duty as pastors consists in presenting in its full richness the extraordinary value of marriage, which as a natural institution is a "patrimony of humanity." Moreover, its elevation to the loftiest dignity of a sacrament must be seen with gratitude and wonder, as I recently said, affirming:
"The sacramental quality that marriage assumes in Christ therefore means that the gift of creation has been raised to the grace of redemption. Christ's grace is not an external addition to human nature, it does not do violence to men and women but sets them free and restores them, precisely by raising them above their own limitations" (" Address to the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome," June 6, 2005; L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, June, 15, p. 6).

4. The spouses' love and total gift of self, with their special connotations of exclusivity, fidelity, permanence in time and openness to life, are at the root of this communion of life and love that constitutes the married state (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," No. 48).

Today, it is necessary to proclaim with renewed enthusiasm that the Gospel of the family is a process of human and spiritual fulfillment in the certainty that the Lord is always present with his grace. This proclamation is often distorted by false concepts of marriage and the family that do not respect God's original plan. In this regard, people have actually reached the point of suggesting new forms of marriage, some unknown to popular cultures in that its specific nature is altered.

Also in the life context, new models are being proposed that dispute this fundamental right. As a result, the elimination of embryos or their arbitrary use in the name of scientific progress, which fails to recognize its own limits and to accept all the moral principles that make it possible to safeguard the dignity of the person, becomes a threat to the human being who is reduced to an object or a mere instrument. When such levels are reached, society itself is affected and every kind of risk shakes its foundations.

5. In Latin America, as in all other places, children have the right to be born and to be raised in a family founded on marriage, where parents are the first educators of the faith for their children in order for them to reach full human and spiritual maturity.

Children truly are the family's greatest treasure and most precious good. Consequently, everyone must be helped to become aware of the intrinsic evil of the crime of abortion. In attacking human life in its very first stages, it is also an aggression against society itself. Politicians and legislators, therefore, as servants of the common good, are duty bound to defend the fundamental right to life, the fruit of God's love.

6. It is certain that for pastoral action in so delicate and complex an area, in which various disciplines are involved and fundamental issues faced, a careful training of pastoral workers in the dioceses is essential.

Priests, therefore, as the immediate collaborators of the bishops, must receive a sound training in this field that will enable them to face competently and with conviction the problems that arise in their pastoral activity.

As for lay people, especially those who devote their energy to this service of families, they in turn need a proper and sound formation that will help them witness to the greatness and lasting value of marriage in today's society.

7. Dear brothers and sisters, as you know well, the Fifth World Meeting of Families is not far off. It will be held in Valencia, Spain, on the theme: The transmission of faith in the family.

In this regard, I would like to offer my cordial greeting to Archbishop Agustíín Garcíía-Gasco of that city, who is taking part in this meeting and who, with the Pontifical Council for the Family, is sharing the challenging task of its preparation. I encourage you all so that numerous delegations of the bishops' conferences, dioceses and movements of Latin America will be able to take part in this important ecclesial event.

For my part, I firmly support the holding of this meeting and place it under the loving protection of the Holy Family.

Dear pastors, I cordially impart my apostolic blessing to you and to all the families in Latin America.



 VATICAN CITY, JUN 4, 2005 (VIS) - Made public today was a letter from the Holy Father to Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, in which he renews the invitation made by John Paul II to attend the Fifth World Meeting of Families, due to be held in Valencia, Spain, in July 2006.

  After recalling the theme of the meeting, "Transmission of Faith in the Family," the Pope writes in his letter, dated May 17, that he aims "to encourage, as John Paul II did, 'the stupendous novelty,' the 'Gospel of the family,' the value of which has central importance for the Church and for society."

  "In order to give a truly human face to society," he goes on, "no one can ignore the precious gift of the family, based on matrimony. The marriage bond, in which man and woman together constitute a life-long association, ordered by its very nature for the good of the spouses and the generation and education of children," is the basis of the family, the heritage and shared wealth of humanity. Thus the Church cannot cease to announce that, in accordance with God's plans, marriage and the family are irreplaceable and admit no alternatives."

  Benedict XVI underscores the fact that, "today more than ever, the Christian family has a most noble and inexorable mission, that of transmitting the faith. ... Parents are the first evangelizers of their children, precious gifts of the Creator, beginning with teaching them their first prayers. Thus a moral universe is created, one rooted in the will of God and in which children are raised in human and Christian values that give full meaning to life."


Benedict XVI on Anthropological Foundation of the Family

Addresses Congress of the Diocese of Rome

ROME, JUNE 9, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Monday in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, at the opening of the Ecclesial Congress of the Diocese of Rome. The theme of the congress was "Family and Christian Community: Formation of the Person and Transmission of the Faith."

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I was very pleased to accept the invitation to open this diocesan congress with a reflection, above all because it gives me the possibility to meet with you, to have direct contact, and also because it enables me to help you reflect further on the meaning and objective of the pastoral program being followed by the Church of Rome.

I affectionately greet each of you bishops, priests, men and women religious, and in particular you, the laity and families, who consciously assume these tasks of Christian commitment and testimony which have their roots in the sacrament of baptism and, for those who are married, in that of marriage. My heartfelt thanks to the cardinal vicar and to the spouses Luca and Adriana Pasquale, for the words they addressed to me in your name.

This congress, and the pastoral year to which it will offer guidelines, constitute a new stage in the endeavor the Church has begun, based on the diocesan synod, with the citizen mission so cherished by our beloved Pope John Paul II, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In that mission all the realities of our dioceses -- parishes, religious communities, associations and movements -- mobilized not only on the occasion of a mission to the people of Rome, but to be themselves "people of God on mission," putting into practice the wise _expression of John Paul II: "Parish, look for yourself and find yourself outside yourself"; that is, in places where people live. In this way, in the course of the citizen mission, many thousands of Christians of Rome, in the main laymen, became missionaries and took the word of faith in the first place to families of the diverse neighborhoods of the city and later to various workplaces, hospitals, schools and universities, and realms of culture and free time.

After the Holy Year, my beloved predecessor requested that you not interrupt this endeavor, and that you not disperse the apostolic energies awakened and the fruits of grace that were gathered. Because of this, since the year 2001, the fundamental pastoral orientation of the diocese has been to establish the mission permanently, characterizing in a more-determined missionary way the life and activities of the parishes and of each of the other ecclesial realities. First of all I want to tell you that I wish to confirm this option fully: It is ever more necessary and has no alternatives, in a social and cultural context in which multiple forces act that tend to distance us from the faith and Christian life.

For two years now, the missionary commitment of the Church of Rome has concentrated above all on the family, not only because this fundamental human reality is subjected today to multiple difficulties and threats, and therefore is in particular need of being evangelized and supported concretely, but also because Christian families constitute a decisive resource for education in the faith, the building of the Church as communion and its capacity of missionary presence in the most varied situations of life, as well as to leaven in a Christian sense the culture and social structures.

We will also continue with these guidelines in the forthcoming pastoral year and for this reason the theme of our congress is "Family and Christian Community: Formation of the Person and Transmission of the Faith." The assumption with which one must begin to understand the mission of the family in the Christian community and its endeavors of formation of the person and transmission of the faith, continues to be always the meaning that marriage and the family have in the plan of God, Creator and Savior. This will be therefore the essence of my reflection this afternoon, referring to the teaching of the apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" (Part 2, Nos. 12-16).

Anthropological foundation of the family

Marriage and the family are not a casual sociological construct, fruit of particular historical and economic situations. On the contrary, the question of the right relationship between man and woman sinks its roots in the most profound essence of the human being, and can only find its answer in the latter. It cannot be separated from the always ancient and always new question of man about himself: Who am I? And this question, in turn, cannot be separated from the question about God: Does God exist? And, who is God? What is his face really like? The Bible's answer to these two questions is unitary and consequential: Man is created in the image of God, and God himself is love. For this reason, the vocation to love is what makes man the authentic image of God: He becomes like God in the measure that he becomes someone who loves.

From this fundamental bond between God and man another is derived: The indissoluble bond between spirit and body. Man is, in fact, soul that expresses itself in the body and [the] body that is vivified by an immortal spirit. Also, the body of man and of woman has, therefore, so to speak, a theological character, it is not simply body, and what is biological in man is not only biological, but an _expression and fulfillment of our humanity. In this way, human sexuality is not next to our being person, but belongs to it. Only when sexuality is integrated in the person does it succeed in giving itself meaning.

In this way, from the two bonds, that of man with God and -- in man -- that of the body with the spirit, arises a third bond: the one that exists between person and institution. The totality of man includes the dimension of time, and man's "yes" goes beyond the present moment: In his totality, the "yes" means "always," it constitutes the area of fidelity. Only in his interior can this faith grow which gives a future and allows the children, fruit of love, to believe in man and in his future in difficult times.

The freedom of the "yes" appears therefore as freedom capable of assuming what is definitive: The highest _expression of freedom is not therefore the pursuit of pleasure, without ever arriving at a genuine decision. Seemingly this permanent openness appears to be the realization of freedom, but it is not true: The true _expression of freedom is, on the contrary, the capacity to decide for a definitive gift, in which freedom, by surrendering itself, finds itself fully again.

Concretely, the personal and reciprocal "yes" of man and woman opens space for the future, for the authentic humanity of each one, and at the same time is destined to the gift of a new life. For this reason, this personal "yes" must necessarily be a "yes" that is also publicly responsible, with which the spouses assume the public responsibility of faithfulness, which also guarantees the future for the community. None of us belongs exclusively to himself: Therefore, each one is called to assume in his deepest self his own public responsibility. Marriage, as an institution, is not therefore an undue interference of society or of the authorities, an imposition from outside in the most private reality of life; it is on the contrary an intrinsic exigency of the pact of conjugal love and of the depth of the human person.

The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and "trial marriage," including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are on the contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man's authentic liberation. A pseudo-freedom like this is based on a trivialization of the body, which inevitably includes the trivialization of man.

Its assumption is that man can make of himself what he likes: Thus his body becomes something secondary, which can be manipulated from the human point of view, which can be used as one pleases. Libertinism, which appears as discovery of the body and its value, is in reality a dualism that makes the body contemptible, leaving it so to speak outside the authentic being and dignity of the person.

Marriage and Family in the History of Salvation

The truth of marriage and the family, which sinks its roots in the truth of man, has found its application in the history of salvation, at whose center is the word: "God loves his people." In fact, biblical revelation is above all the _expression of a history of love, the history of God's covenant with men. For this reason, God has been able to assume the history of love and of the union of a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, as symbol of the history of salvation. The ineffable fact, the mystery of God's love for men, takes its linguistic form from the vocabulary of marriage and the family, both positive and negative: God's approach to his people is presented with the language of conjugal love, while Israel's infidelity, its idolatry, is designated as adultery and prostitution.

In the New Testament, God radicalizes his love until he becomes himself, through his Son, flesh of our flesh, authentic man. Thus, God's union with man has assumed its supreme, irreversible and definitive form. And in this way, the definitive form of human love is also drawn, that reciprocal "yes" that cannot be revoked. It does not alienate man, but liberates him from the alienations of history to return him to the truth of creation. The sacramental character that marriage assumes in Christ means, therefore, that the gift of creation has been raised to the grace of redemption. Christ's grace is not superimposed from outside of man's nature, it does not violate it, but liberates and restores it, by raising it beyond its frontiers. And just as the Incarnation of the Son of God reveals its true meaning in the cross, so also authentic human love is surrender of oneself; it cannot exist if it avoids the cross.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, this profound bond between God and man, between the love of God and human love, is also confirmed by some negative tendencies and developments, whose weight we all experience. The degradation of human love, the suppression of the authentic capacity to love appears in our time as the most effective weapon for man to crush God, to remove God from man's sight and heart. However, the desire to "liberate" God's nature makes one lose sight of the very reality of nature, including man's nature, reducing it to an ensemble of functions, which can be disposed of according to one's pleasure to build a so-called better world and a happier humanity. But on the contrary, the plan of the Creator is destroyed as is the truth of our nature.


Also in the procreation of children, marriage reflects its divine model, the love of God for man. In man and woman, paternity and maternity, as happens with the body and with love, the biological aspect is not circumscribed: life is only given totally when with birth, love and meaning are also given, which make it possible to say yes to this life. Precisely because of this, it is clear to what point the systematic closing of the union itself to the gift of life and, even more, the suppression or manipulation of unborn life is contrary to human love, to the profound vocation of man and woman.
However, no man and no woman, on their own and by their own strength, can give love and the meaning of life adequately to their children. To be able to say to someone: "your life is good, even if I don't know your future," needs a superior authority and credibility which the individual cannot give himself on his own. The Christian knows that that authority is conferred to that larger family that God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has created in the history of men, namely, to the Church. It acknowledges the action of that eternal and indestructible love that assures to the life of each one of us a permanent meaning, even if we do not know the future.

For this reason, the building of each of the Christian families is framed in the context of the great family of the Church, which supports and accompanies it, and guarantees that there is a meaning and that in the future there will be the "yes" of the Creator. And, reciprocally, the Church is built by families, "small domestic Churches," as Vatican Council II called them ("Lumen Gentium," 11; "Apostolicam Actuositatem," 11), rediscovering an ancient patristic _expression (St. John Chrysostom, "In Genesim serm," VI,2; VII,1). In this connection, "Familiaris Consortio" affirms that "Christian marriage ... constitutes the natural place within which is carried out the insertion of the human person in the great family of the Church" (No. 15).

Family and Church

An obvious consequence derives from all of this: the family and the Church, specifically the parishes and the other forms of ecclesial community, are called to the most profound collaboration in that fundamental task that is constituted, inseparably, by the formation of the person and the transmission of the faith. We know well that for an authentic educational endeavor to take place, it is not enough to communicate a correct theory or doctrine. Something far greater and more human is needed -- that closeness, lived daily, which is proper to love and that finds its most propitious space above all in the family community, and afterwards in a parish or movement or ecclesial association, in which people are found who pay attention to their brothers, in particular, to children and youths, as well as to adults, the elderly, the sick, and families themselves because, in Christ, they love them. The great patron of educators, St. John Bosco, reminded his spiritual sons that "education is something of the heart and that God alone is its proprietor" ("Epistolario," 4, 209).

The figure of the witness is central in the educational endeavor, and especially in education in the faith, which is the summit of the person's formation and his most appropriate horizon: the witness becomes a point of reference precisely in the measure in which he is able to defend the hope that is the basis of his life (see 1 Peter 3:15), and in the measure that the witness is personally involved with the truth he proposes. The witness, moreover, does not point to himself, but points to something, or rather to someone greater, whom he has encountered and experienced as trustworthy goodness. Thus, every educator and witness finds an unsurpassable model in Jesus Christ, the great witness of the Father, who said nothing on his own, but spoke exactly as the Father had taught him (see John 8:28).

This is the reason why at the basis of the Christian person's formation and of the transmission of the faith is necessarily prayer, personal friendship with Christ and contemplation in him of the Father's face. And the same may be said of all our missionary commitment, in particular, our family pastoral program: may the Family of Nazareth be, therefore, for our families and communities the object of constant and confident prayer, as well as model of life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, and especially you, dear priests: I am aware of the generosity and selflessness with which you serve the Lord and his Church. Your daily work for the formation in the faith of new generations, in profound union with the sacraments of Christian initiation, as well as by preparation for marriage and support of families on their journey, which is often not easy, in particular the great task of the education of children, is the fundamental way to always regenerate the Church again and also to vivify the social fabric of our beloved city of Rome.

Threat of relativism

Continue, therefore, without allowing yourselves to be discouraged by the difficulties you meet. The educational relationship is, by its very nature, something delicate: it implies the other's freedom who, even with gentleness, is forced to make a decision. Neither parents, nor priests, nor catechists, nor other educators can substitute the freedom of the child, the boy, the youth whom they direct. And the Christian proposal interpolates freedom very profoundly, calling it to faith and conversion. A particularly insidious obstacle in the educational endeavor today is the massive presence in our society and culture of a relativism that, by not acknowledging anything as definitive, only has as its ultimate measure the "I" itself, with its tastes and which, with the appearance of freedom, becomes for each one a prison, as it separates from others, making each one find himself shut in within his own "I." In such a relativist horizon, therefore, an authentic education is not possible. Without the light of truth, sooner or later every person is condemned to doubt the goodness of his own life and the relationships that constitute it, the validity of his commitment to build with others something in common.

It is clear, therefore, that not only must we try to surmount the relativism in our work of formation of persons, but we are also called to confront its destructive dominance in society and culture. For this reason, it is very important that, in addition to the word of the Church, the testimony and public commitment of Christian families is given, in particular, to reaffirm the inviolability of human life from conception to its natural end, the unique and irreplaceable value of the family based on marriage and the need for legislative and administrative measures that support families in the task of begetting and educating children, essential task for our common future. For this commitment of yours I also give you my heartfelt thanks.

Priesthood and consecrated life

The last message I would like to leave with you concerns attention to vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life. We all know the need the Church has! For these vocations to be born and to mature, for the persons called to keep themselves always worthy of their vocation, prayer is, above all, decisive; it must never be lacking in each of the families and in the Christian community. But also fundamental is the testimony of life of priests, men and women religious, the joy they express for having been called by the Lord. And, essential likewise is the example that children receive within their own family and the families' conviction that the children's vocations are also for them a great gift of the Lord. The option for virginity for love of God and of brothers, which is required for the priesthood and consecrated life, is accompanied by the appreciation of Christian marriage: one and the other, with two different and complementary forms, make visible in a certain sense the mystery of the covenant between God and his people.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I commend these reflections to you as a contribution to your work in the evenings of the congress and later during the next pastoral year. I pray that the Lord will give you courage and enthusiasm so that our Church of Rome, every parish, every religious community, association or movement will participate intensely in the joy and effort of the mission and in this way every family and the whole Christian community will rediscover in the love of the Lord the key that opens the door of hearts and that makes possible an authentic education in the faith and in the formation of persons. My affection and blessing accompany you today and in the future.


Comment on the above address by Benedict XVI:

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has once again weighed in on pro-life and family issues in a way that offers clues to the style and substance of his still-young papacy.

To judge by media reports, the pope's talk June 6 to the Diocese of Rome was no less than a declaration of war against gay marriage, abortion and birth control. Newspapers plucked out phrases like "anarchic" and "pseudo-marriages" for some zinger headlines.

But that's one of the problems with Pope Benedict: Often, his well-reasoned discourses don't break down easily into sound bites and headlines.

As one veteran wire service reporter recently lamented in the Vatican press office, the new pope is hard to write about because short citations don't do justice to his complex arguments. You can't just cherry-pick quotes.

That was especially true when the pope spoke about the family to a packed Basilica of St. John Lateran. His 3,000-word speech was a seminar, not a tirade.

It began with an explanation of the "anthropological foundation" of the family and moved on to outline three sets of connections that give the family meaning: the relationship between God and man, between the body and the spirit, and between personal freedom and the concept of fidelity.

When these relationships are forgotten, he said, the result is a false idea of freedom -- an "anarchic freedom" -- that gives rise to various forms of marriage dissolution, such as cohabitation, 'trial' marriage and gay marriage.

He said the idea that freedom is simply the right to "do what one wants with oneself" ends up trivializing the human being and making the human body a secondary instrument of pleasure.

The pope also underlined the idea that the promises made in marriage have always had a public aspect, making it a core social institution. The generation of children in marriage flows from the natural desire not just to produce babies but also to give them the love provided by a family, he said.

Interestingly, Pope Benedict said little about specific church teachings on these issues. His goal was not to insist on Catholic doctrine, but to convince with arguments that have inspired the doctrine -- no doubt realizing that his audience was the wider society as well as the diocesan leaders sitting in front of him.

The lengthy text was so rich that one archbishop, rereading it carefully the next day, remarked the pope had given "a theology lesson on the family." It was a challenging talk even for pastoral experts.

"Everyone who listened had the impression that this was a text we had to go back and read again," said Luca Pasquale, who helps run the Diocese of Rome's Family Pastoral Center.

Some in his audience noted that Pope Benedict did not mention the many everyday problems faced by families in Rome, including housing, unemployment, inflation, child rearing or internal family tensions. There was a reason for that, Pasquale said.

"He knows that without understanding the foundations of the family, any discussion of everyday problems can be superficial," Pasquale said.

"The pope was connecting the family to the supernatural plan for creation, and this is a very important point. Our people need to know that the family is not a sociological category that could be replaced tomorrow," Pasquale said.

It was the fourth time since his election that the pope has delivered a major talk or sermon at the Lateran basilica, which is located across the city from the Vatican. In comparison, he has presided only once at an event in St. Peter's Basilica.

Catholics in Rome think that's significant. The Lateran basilica is the seat of the pope's diocese, and Pope Benedict has given every indication that he takes his role as bishop of Rome very seriously.

But that doesn't necessarily mean getting into the local political trenches. Noticeably absent from the pope's talk was any reference to the realpolitik decisions faced by Catholics as they respond to legislative and other initiatives on gay marriage, domestic partnership benefits, abortion or embryonic manipulation.

These are issues that are swirling around Rome, Europe and the world. The day before the pope's talk, voters in Switzerland upheld a law that grants gay couples greater rights. Spain's national assembly gave preliminary approval to a law legalizing gay marriage in April.

Italians were voting on a referendum June 12-13 that would repeal some restrictions on artificial reproduction and embryonic research. Italian bishops have urged Catholics to boycott the vote to help invalidate it -- a controversial strategy, even among Catholics.

In late May, Pope Benedict spoke about the referendum, but in very general terms. He praised Italy's bishops for "working to enlighten and inspire" Catholic voters, and also said he trusted in the Holy Spirit to influence the "consciences and hearts" of people.

He didn't mention the boycott strategy. He enunciated principles without issuing political directives.

U.S. Archbishop William J. Levada, the newly appointed head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, paid close attention to the pope's remarks on the Italian vote. He said he thought the pontiff was wisely leaving it to local church leaders to take the lead on local political issues.

"I thought to myself, that's helpful. He's supportive, but he's saying primarily it's the responsibility of the bishops of this country," Archbishop Levada said.