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The Rights of Children

By Ann Schneible

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) — Children have the right to be raised by a mother and a father, Pope Francis said, emphasizing that “the family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation.”

The pope made these remarks on Nov. 17 at the opening of the three-day international, interfaith colloquium entitled The Complementarity of Man and Woman, currently underway in the Vatican.

Also referred to as the “Humanum” conference, the gathering is being sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

“To reflect upon ‘complementarity’ is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all creation,” he said. “All complementarities were made by our creator, so the author of harmony achieves this harmony.”

Complementarity, which is at the core of this gathering, “is a root of marriage and family,” the pope said. “For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living.”

Although the family often leads to tensions — “egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals” — it also provides “frameworks for resolving such tensions.”

Pope Francis warned against confusing complementarity with the notion that “all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, he said, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma.”

“Marriage and family are in crisis,” he said, with the “culture of the temporary” dissuading people from making the “public commitment” of marriage.

“This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

Pope Francis noted the evidence pointing too the correlation between “the decline of marriage culture” and the increase of poverty and other “social ills.” It is women, children, and elderly persons who suffer the most from this crisis, he said.

The pope likened the crisis in the family to threats against the environment. Although there has been a growing awareness of ecological concerns, mankind has “been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church.”

“We must foster a new human ecology,” he said.

“The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation,” the Holy Father continued, stressing the importance of marriage in the raising of children.

“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity,” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged the participants in the colloquium to especially take account of young people. “Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.”

He also warned against being moved by political agendas. “Family is an anthropological fact, he said, which cannot be qualified “based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history.”

Pope Francis concluded his address by confirming his participation in the World Meeting of Families to take place in Philadelphia, USA, in 2015.

Following the Holy Father’s remarks, CDF Prefect and moderator of the colloquium’s opening sessions, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, spoke at length on the central themes of the gathering.

At the core of the colloquium which has gathered representatives from diverse religious traditions, is the question of the import of man and woman’s complementarity “for the relationship between the human person and God”.

Recounting the Genesis account of the earth’s creation, followed by that of man and woman, Cardinal Mueller said in his intervention the “difference between man and woman, both in the union of love and the generation of life, concerns God’s presence in the world.” It is man’s calling “to discover [this] in order to find a solid and lasting foundation and destiny for our life.”

“In sexual difference,” the cardinal went on, the man and the woman “can only understand him or herself in light of the other: the male needs the female to be understood, and the same is true for the female.”

It is therefore the the aim of the colloquium, Mueller concluded, “to explore the richness of sexual difference, its goodness, its character as gift, its openness to life, the path that opens up to God.”

Later that morning, keynote speaker Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks opened his intervention by telling “the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.”

The Rabbi explored the evolutionary development leading to the human family, from which emerged “the union of the biological mother and father to care for their child.” Then, with the development of cultures came the normalization of polygamy: “the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that
many males never get the chance to have a wife and child.”

“That is what makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary,” he said, “with its statement that every human being, regardless of class, colour, culture or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself.”

Rabbi Sacks spoke at length about the development of family within the Jewish tradition, noting how the Jews were “became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us from tragedy.”

From the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D through centuries of persecution, he said, “Jews survived because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and their faith.”

“Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child,” he said.

In an interview with CNA, President for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, reflected on the fundamentals of complementarity, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis.

“We have this very beautiful idea, an image that the relationship between man and woman is an image of God,” he said. “In this sense, in the Catholic Church, the marriage between husband and wife is a sacrament. This sacramental issue is very important for us.”

Citing the interfaith character of the Colloquium, Cardinal Koch, who served as moderator for the afternoon sessions he stressed the need to give witness about complementarity “first of all in an ecumenical way.”

The chance to “give witness about family and marriage in an inter-religious dimension is a very beautiful opportunity,” he said.

David Quinn, director of the IONA institute and newspaper columnist, was among the participants in the colloquium. “The conference is obviously an extremely major international gathering about the importance of marriage between a man and a woman,” he told CNA.

“It’s probably the most significant gathering of its kind to date that’s been organized by the Church, and specifically by the CDF.”

“The loud and clear message for me,” Quinn said, “is the importance of the complementarity of men and women, and particularly the right of a child to be raised by their own mother and father whenever that is possible.”

Citing Ireland’s upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, set to occur in 2015, Quinn said “this is obviously a loud and clear message that people need to hear. That the sexes are complimentary.”

“This is embedded in the very nature of marriage itself. You deny the nature of marriage if you deny the importance of the complementarity of the sexes, and above all if you deny that mothers and fathers should raise children together.”