Anthony Cappello, who provides this report on the recent Jubilee celebration for families in Rome, is research assistant for the Thomas More Centre and occasional contributor to 'AD2000'. His family - including his wife Brigid and children Liam and Clare - was one of two families representing the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
In the Paul VI Auditorium in Rome last October the International Theological and Pastoral Congress was held by the Pontifical Council for the Family.
The congress, titled "Children, Springtime of the Family and Society", assembled speakers from Europe and the rest of the world to present a variety of important topics pertaining to the family, children, and the role of children within families, the Church and society as a whole.
Archbishop Faulkner from Adelaide and Ron and Mavis Pirola from Sydney led the Australian delegation to the congress. Our family was one of the two families privileged to represent the Melbourne Archdiocese. The group of 31 Australian representatives included nine children, all of whom belonged to the Melbourne families.
Opening the congress, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that children are a precious gift, not a right, to the family and moreover to society. Furthermore: "Children are the springtime of the family, the bud of human life, starting from this natural structure which is fundamental for society. To fight for the good of children is to fight for the good of the family."
Cardinal Trujillo noted that, despite many advantages in Western countries to the well-being of children, one in every four children has not received basic vaccinations at the age of one, while child mortality in Third World countries is still very high. In many African, Asian and Latin American countries, children are still exploited in wars and through child labour.
These and other problems were explored in more depth by several speakers at the congress particularly by Mrs Kathryn Hoomkwap from Nigeria, who addressed the issue of poverty and the family in Third World countries. Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha spoke of the problem of abandoned children and Mrs Joyce Higgins, from Ecuador, tackled the topic of family poverty and enterprise.
On a lighter note, speakers were asked to keep their talks to the time allocated, in most cases 15 minutes. The chair soon realised this was going to be difficult to enforce. His prayers, however, were answered when a bell was found. This was handed to a German who was to ring it after any speaker strayed beyond the allocated time. If the bell rang more than three times, the chair announced that he would have no choice but reintroduce the death penalty for the offender. But not even this dire threat enabled the congress to be kept within its time schedule!
Following the congress, a concert was staged by the Vienna Boys Choir, as participants prepared for the anticipated meeting with the Holy Father in St Peter's Square on the Saturday.
Over 200,000 families assembled in St Peter's Square, where participants took part in a program of songs, speeches, films, personal testimonies and prayers. Pope John Paul II then addressed the enthusiastic crowd on a warm autumn afternoon. He reminded the gathering that children are the supreme gift of married love, that the questions that come from children are an echo of God's voice, and that children must be able to depend on both parents.
To mothers, the Holy Father made the following appeal: "Dear mothers, who bear deep within you an irresistible instinct for the defence of life, I make a heartfelt appeal: always be sources of life, never of death". To both parents Pope John Paul declared: "Together proclaim the value of family and of life. Without these values, there is no future worthy of man."
The Holy Father was then presented with gifts by families from all around the world.
The event was a moving testimony to the beauty of the family and its value to the Church and to society. For the children from Australia present: Johanna, Paul, Bede, Xavier, Harriet, Macaire, Daniel and the younger pilgrims Liam and 10-month-old Clare, their witness to us Australian pilgrims was unforgettable - a witness to the Church of today and of tomorrow.