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SPECIAL: Bishops of the Americas on the Value of the Family

Issue Statement Affirming Importance of the Institution

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, MARCH 2, 2004 (Zenit) - The bishops of the Church in the Americas have issued a statement affirming the fundamental value and importance of the family.

They issued the statement, entitled "Family, Become What You Are!" at their 32nd meeting here. Members of the episcopal conferences of Canada, the United States and Latin America attended. Below is the full text of the statement.

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Family, Become What You Are!

Message from the 32nd Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America
San Antonio, Texas
16-19 February 2004

In this new millennium, the whole American Continent is undergoing profound questioning about the fundamentals of society in general and its foundational unit, the family, in particular. Families and family members are confronting ever-growing challenges. Even though the vast majority of couples continue to choose to marry and have children, marriages are often delayed, less stable and more likely to break up. This lack of stability affects both children and adults. Making a commitment to live together for life is too often today seen as astonishing. Given this cultural and social context, in which so much of the future seems uncertain, many young couples hesitate about starting a family.

The demands of modern-day life impose considerable burdens on parents. It is worrisome to see families, no matter how flexible they may be, so overloaded with work, stressed, burdened with financial worries and cut off from the support of the extended family. Unemployment and job instability lead to insecurity and constitute a heavy burden on family life. The market economy, financial fluctuations and speculation often have a negative impact on employment and buying power, while more and more children become victims of systemic poverty.

Nonetheless, the family endures. It remains the privileged place where human beings are formed and where children discover the mission that God entrusts to them in the world and in the Church. The family is the oldest social structure of all humanity. The American continent, from the forests of northern Canada to the Argentinian Patagonia, comprises a vast cultural diversity. Together we affirm the fundamental value and importance of the family. At the heart of every people and culture, the family is also the way of the Church.1

Family, become what you are:2 The Church in the home or the "domestic Church"

Marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. When a family is founded on a marriage, its life unfolds around God's eternal covenant. The family becomes a temple of love and a community of the baptized, called to be transformed by God through service to life. With Jesus, a path is laid out for us and God shows us the way: love is service and humanity's gift to the world.

As the "domestic Church," the family has the mission of being the foremost educator of children. Despite all its difficulties, the family reflects God's tenderness, faithfulness and mercy. It opens doors to the Redeemer. It becomes a messenger of the compassionate love of Christ, for children first of all but also for humanity at large. All that is needed is for parents to let God's living Spirit be at the centre of the family. When God is frequently mentioned, when the story of Jesus' life is told with enthusiasm, and when each opportunity for prayer is celebrated, children will gently but surely develop a life of intimacy with God. The family truly is a house of God.

Family, become what you are: A sanctuary of life

The Church considers the family as a sanctuary of life. By welcoming children as gifts of God, a family fulfills its mission as the foundational unit of society and the Church. Through words that teach and by daily gestures of kindness, tenderness and forgiveness, parents cultivate in their children the authentic freedom of God's sons and daughters. Thus children grow in respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, promoting justice, peace and solidarity.3 This is the task God gives Christian parents, often helped by grandparents who can be so vital in the transmission of faith and values.

Even when a family is wounded or weakened by one of its members, the family is still -both for the children and their parents -- the primary place for them to find welcome, renewal, emotional security and love. It can continue to be this as long as it is surrounded and supported by close family members and other families who are aware of the need to be in solidarity.4 In God's plan, the family is always a giver of life, of life in abundance (John 10:10), even in its vulnerability. It is in the family itself that we can find the "good news" of a love that overcomes fear ...

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