VATICAN CITY — In his general audience catechesis on Jan. 28, Pope Francis turned to the role of fathers, saying that they play an irreplaceable role in family life, and their absence leaves children prey to false idols.
“When children feel neglected by fathers who focus only on their problems, on their work or their own personal realization, this creates a situation of orphans in the children and youth of today, who live disoriented, without the good example or prudent guidance of a father,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis directed his words to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his Wednesday address. Continuing his catechesis on the family, the Pope spoke on the theme of fatherhood.
The Pope’s reflection on fatherhood falls after a separate general audience address on the role of mothers earlier this month, during which he hailed motherhood as the “antidote to individualism.”
In today’s society, the word “father” is a reality understood throughout the world and which transcends history, he told today’s audience participants.
This word, he said, is the one “which Jesus taught us to call God, giving new depth and richness to the mystery of the intimacy of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is the center of our Christian faith.”
However, in modern times, we frequently speak of a “society without fathers,” in which the crisis of fatherhood can lead one to associate the term with authoritarian and repressive tendencies, the Pope noted.
“Fathers are so necessary as examples and guides for our children in wisdom and virtue. Without father figures, young people often feel orphaned, left adrift at a critical moment in their growth and development,” he continued.
Pope Francis then recounted how he has often asked the fathers he encounters if they “had the courage and love” to play with their children and to spend time with them.
Rather than hearing a reassuring Yes, often, “the answer is ugly, eh? In the majority of cases, it's: ‘I can't; there's too much work,’” the Bishop of Rome observed, and he said that it is the responsibility of Christian communities and civil society as a whole to find a remedy to the crisis of fatherhood.
The Holy Father also drew attention to the temptation of some fathers to try and be their children’s friend more than their parent, saying that although being a friend and companion to one’s child is good, the role of the parent is essential.
“It's true that you need to be the friend of your child, but without forgetting that you are a father. If you are only there for your child as a friend, it won't be good for [him],” he cautioned.
The absence of the father figure in society is something that persons at every level of society should be aware of because it leaves “gaps and wounds” in the formation of today’s youth, the Pope emphasized.
“Without guides to rely on, youth can be filled with idols that end up stealing their hearts, enthusiasm and genuine wealth,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his address by recalling Jesus’ promise in the Gospel of John: that “he would not leave us orphans,” and he prayed that the Lord would “deepen and renew our appreciation of fatherhood and raise up good fathers for the benefit of our families, our Church and our world.”
He said that although the prognosis he gave of the state of fatherhood today might have been a bit negative, next week he will follow-up with a reflection on the blessing and “beauty” of fatherhood.
“I chose to begin in darkness in order to arrive to the light,” he said, and he gave his blessing before greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world.