After meeting briefly with a group of sick people gathered in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square. The Pope began his reflection by noting that March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, marks a special stage in the journey of catechesis on the family, a moment to pause for prayer. The Annunciation, the “beginning of the mystery of the Incarnation” shows that God willed for His Only-begotten Son to not only be conceived in the womb of a mother, but to be welcomed into a true family. Pope Francis led his audience in the recitation of the Hail Mary as a means of contemplating the beauty of this relationship between God and mankind.
The Holy Father then noted that March 25th is celebrated in many countries as the Day of Life; it is also the twentieth anniversary of the encyclical Evangelium vitae by St John Paul II. Pope Francis noted that the family occupies a central place in the encyclical. “The words of my venerable Predecessor remind us that the human couple was blessed by God from the beginning to form a community of love and life, to which He entrusted the mission of procreation,” the Pope said, and Christian spouses open themselves to the blessing of children.
The Church too, he said, “is solemnly committed to the care of the family that results from it, as a gift of God for her own life, in good fortune and in bad: the bond between the Church and the family is sacred and inviolable.” The Church never abandons families, even when they are weak and wounded, but always seeks to heal them.
To complete this mission, the Pope continued, there is great need for prayer, prayer which is full of love for the family and for life. For that reason, Pope Francis asked for a great renewal of our prayers for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family, set for next October. “I would like for this prayer, and the whole Synod journey, to be animated by the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His flock, especially for persons and families that, for different reasons, are ‘troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd’.” Everyone, from the Pope to the lay faithful, are called to pray for the Synod. There is great need for prayer, he repeated, and not for gossip or chatter.
To renew this prayer, Pope Francis offered a special prayer for the upcoming Synod, in which he led the crowd. The full text of the prayer, in an unofficial translation, can be found at the end of the full text of Pope Francis’ remarks for the General Audience:
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
But good day… but it’s not a pretty day, eh? Today the Audience is in two different places, as we do when it rains: you here in the Square, and many sick people in the Paul VI Hall, who are following the audience on the big screens. Now, as a gesture of brotherly courtesy, let us greet them with a round of applause. [Those in the Square applaud.] It’s not easy to applaud with an umbrella in hand, eh?
In our journey of catechesis on the family, today is a somewhat special stage: It will be a break for prayer.
In the Church on March 25th, we solemnly celebrate the Annunciation, the beginning of the mystery of the Incarnation. The Archangel Gabriel visits the humble girl of Nazareth, and announces that she will conceive and bear the Son of God. With this Announcement, the Lord illumines and strengthens the faith of Mary, as He will later do for her husband, Joseph, so that Jesus could be born in a human family. This is very beautiful: it shows us how profoundly the mystery of the Incarnation, just as God wanted, comprises not only the conception in the womb of the mother, but also being welcomed into a true family. Today I want to contemplate with you the beauty of this bond, the beauty of this condescension of God; and we can do so by reciting together the Hail Mary, which in the first part resumes the very words that the Angel addressed to the Virgin. I invite you to pray together :
[In Italian] Hail Mary, full of grace…
And now a second aspect: On March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the Day of Life is celebrated in many countries. For this reason, twenty years ago, Saint John Paul II on this date signed the Encyclical Evangelium vitae. To celebrate this anniversary, many members of the Movement for Life are in the Square today. In Evangelium vitae the family occupies a central place, insofar as it is the womb of human life. The words of my venerable Predecessor remind us that the human couple was blessed by God from the beginning to form a community of love and life, to which He entrusted the mission of procreation. Christian spouses, celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony, open themselves to honour this benediction, with the grace of God, for all of life. The Church, for her part, is solemnly committed to the care of the family that results from it, as a gift of God for her own life, in good fortune and in bad: the bond between the Church and the family is sacred and inviolable. The Church, as a mother, never abandons the family, even when it is disheartened, wounded, and mortified in so many ways; it will always do everything to seek to cure and heal it, to invite it to conversion and to reconcile it with the Lord.
So then, if this is the task, it appears clear how much prayer the Church needs in order to be up to fulfilling this mission at all times! A prayer full of love for the family and for life. A prayer that knows how to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to suffer with those who suffer.
So here is what I, with my collaborators, have thought to propose today: to renew the prayer for the Synod of the Bishops on the family. We are taking up this commitment again next October, when the ordinary Assembly of the Synod, dedicated to the family, will take place. I would like for this prayer, and the whole Synod journey, to be animated by the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His flock, especially for persons and families that, for different reasons, are “troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). So, sustained and animated by the grace of God, the Church can be ever more committed, and ever more united, in the witness of the truth of the love of God and of His mercy for the families of the world, excluding none, whether within or outside the flock. I ask you, please, to not neglect your prayer. All of us – the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious, lay faithful – we are all called to pray for the Synod. There is need of this, not of chatter! I also invite those who feel far away, or who are not accustomed to do so, to pray. This prayer for the Synod on the Family is for the good of everyone. I know that this morning you were given a little prayer card, which you have in your hands. It might be a little wet. I invite you to hold on to it and keep it with you, so that in the coming months you can recite it often, with holy insistence, as Jesus has asked us. Now, let us say it together:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate The splendour of true love,
We turn to you with confidence.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
Make our families, also, Places of communion and cenacles of prayer,
Authentic schools of the Gospel, And little domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth
May our families never more experience Violence, isolation, and division:
May anyone who was wounded or scandalized Rapidly experience consolation and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
May the upcoming Synod of Bishops Re-awaken in all an awareness
Of the sacred character and inviolability of the family, Its beauty in the project of God.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Hear and answer our prayer. Amen.