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Pope's Address to Bishops of Provinces of San Antonio and Oklahoma City

"Family Life Is Sanctified in the Joining of Man and Woman in Holy Matrimony"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 24, 2004 - Here is the address John Paul II delivered on Saturday to the U.S. bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of San Antonio and Oklahoma City at the conclusion of their five-yearly visit to Rome.

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Dear Brother Bishops,

1. It is with great joy that I welcome you, the Bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of San Antonio and Oklahoma City, on the occasion of your visit "ad limina Apostolorum." I am grateful that during the last few months I have had the pleasure of meeting so many Bishops from your country, which is home to a large and vibrant Catholic community. "We give thanks to God always for you all ... remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). These visits not only strengthen the bond between us, but they also offer a unique opportunity for us to look more closely at the good work already accomplished and the challenges still facing the Church in the United States.

In my last talks I discussed themes related to the "munus sanctificandi." In particular I looked at the universal call to holiness and the importance of a loving communion with God and one another, as the key to personal and communal sanctification. "God created man in his own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love" ("Familiaris Consortio," 11; cf. Genesis 1:26-27). These essential relationships are based on God's love, and act as the point of reference for all human activity. The vocation and responsibility of every person to love grants us not only the ability to cooperate with the Lord in his sanctifying mission but also gives us the desire to do so. Accordingly, in this my final reflection on the sanctifying office, I wish to concentrate in a special way on one of the cornerstones of the Church itself, namely, the complex of interpersonal relationships known as the family (cf. "Familiaris Consortio," 11).

2. Family life is sanctified in the joining of man and woman in the sacramental institution of holy matrimony. Consequently, it is fundamental that Christian marriage be comprehended in the fullest sense and be presented both as a natural institution and a sacramental reality. Many today have a clear understanding of the secular nature of marriage, which includes the rights and responsibilities modern societies hold as determining factors for a marital contract. There are nevertheless some who appear to lack a proper understanding of the intrinsically religious dimension of this covenant.

Modern society rarely pays heed to the permanent nature of marriage. In fact, the attitude towards marriage found in contemporary culture demands that the Church seek to offer better premarital instruction aimed at forming couples in this vocation and insist that her Catholic schools and religious education programs guarantee that young people, many of whom are from broken families themselves, are educated from a very early age in the Church's teaching on the sacrament of matrimony. In this regard, I thank the Bishops of the United States for their concern to provide a correct catechesis on marriage to the lay faithful of their dioceses. I encourage you to continue to place a strong emphasis on marriage as a Christian vocation to which couples are called and to give them the means to live it fully through marital preparation programs which are "serious in purpose, excellent in content, sufficient in length and obligatory in nature" (Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, 202).

3. The Church teaches that the love of man and woman made holy in the sacrament of marriage is a mirror of God's everlasting love for his creation (cf. Preface of Marriage III). Similarly, the communion of love present in family life serves as a model of the relationships which must exist in Christ's family, the Church. "Among the fundamental tasks of the Christian family is its ecclesial task: the family is placed at the service of the building up of the Kingdom of God in history by participating in the life and mission of the Church" ("Familiaris Consortio," 49). In order to ensure that the family is capable of fulfilling this mission, the Church has a sacred responsibility to do all she can to assist married couples in making the family a "domestic church" and in fulfilling properly the "priestly role" to which every Christian family is called (cf. ibid., 55).

A most effective way to accomplish this task is by assisting parents to become the first preachers of the Gospel and the main catechists in the family. This particular apostolate requires more than a mere academic instruction on family life; it requires the Church to share the hurts and ...

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