Thursday the Pope received the bishops who are presidents of the Latin American Episcopal Commissions for the Family, who are participating in a meeting in the Vatican to prepare the 2nd World Meeting with Families, which is scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Oct. 4-5, 1997.

The meeting is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family. The Holy Father pointed out that “in our time, it is essential to deepen the personal commitment with which each person must contribute to enriching this primary and vital cell of society. We must not forget, in the general plans for ecclesial activity, that the family is the first and principal path of the Church.”

John Paul II praised “the initiatives which tend toward making all petitions with legislative or governmental responsibilities … respect, aid and promote the family as a necessary and fundamental good for all of society. The future of humanity and of Latin America certainly passes through the family.”

“In recent years,” he continued, “we have witnessed with vivid concern the emergence of a systematic challenge against the family, which casts doubt on its perennial values…. With the pretext of taking care of and protecting the family and all families, people forget that there is a model wanted and blessed by God. The specific character of men and women's conjugal surrender is denied, undervaluing this indissoluble commitment. Likewise, there is an attempt, at times, to introduce other forms of couples'unions, contrary to God's initial project for the human race.”

“In effect, marriage or conjugal commitment between a man and a woman, in mutual surrender and in the transmission of life, are primary values of society, which civil legislation cannot ignore or fight against. For this reason, the Church and its Pastors must not remain indifferent in the face of certain attempts at substantial changes that affect family structure.”


His Holiness John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and His Holiness Karekin I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, signed a Common declaration in the Vatican following their meeting Friday morning. Following are excerpts from the original English-language text:

“Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I recognize the deep spiritual communion which already unites them and the bishops, clergy and lay faithful of their Churches … [that] finds its roots in the common faith in the Holy and life-giving Trinity proclaimed by the Apostles and transmitted down the centuries…. They rejoice in the fact that recent developments of ecumenical relations and theological discussions carried out in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship have dispelled many misunderstandings inherited from the controversies and dissensions of the past.”

“They particularly welcome the great advance that their Churches have registered in their common search for unity in Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Perfect God as to His divinity, perfect man as to His humanity, His divinity is united to His humanity in the Person of the Only-begotten Son of God, in a union which is real, perfect, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without any form of separation.

“The reality of this common faith in Jesus Christ and in the same succession of apostolic ministry has at times been obscured or ignored. Linguistic, cultural and political factors have immensely contributed towards the theological divergences that have found expression in their terminology of formulating their doctrines. His Holiness John Paul II and His Holiness Karekin I have expressed their determined conviction that because of the fundamental common faith in God and in Jesus Christ, the controversies and unhappy divisions which sometimes have followed upon the divergent ways in expressing it, as a result of the present declaration, should not continue to influence the life and witness of the Church today.”

“The communion already existing between the two Churches and the hope for and commitment to recovery of full communion between them should become factors of motivation for further contact….”

“Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I give their blessing and pastoral support to the further development of existing contacts and to new manifestations of that dialogue of charity….”

“Such a dialogue is particularly imperative in these present times when the Churches are faced with new challenges to their witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ arising out of the rapidly changing situations in the modern world so deeply affected by an extreme secularistic and secularizing pace of life and culture.” “They appeal to their clergy and laity to carry out more actively and effectively their full cooperation in all fields of “diaconia” (service), and to become agents of reconciliation, peace and justice, struggling for the true recognition of human rights and dedicating themselves to the support of all those who are suffering and are in spiritual and material need throughout the world.

“John Paul II and Karekin I express a particular pastoral concern for the Armenian people … those living in their historic motherland where freedom and independence were once more recovered … those living in Nagorno Karabagh in need of permanent peace, and those who live in a state of world-wide diaspora. Amid upheavals and tragedies, especially during this century, these people have remained faithful to the apostolic faith…. As they approach the 17th centenary of the official establishment of the Church in Armenia, may they receive the special blessings of the Triune God for peace with justice and for a renewed dedication to witnessing faithfully to the Lord Jesus Christ.”


At 9 a.m. Sunday the Pope visited the Roman parish of Our Lady of Valme, and at the beginning of the Mass's homily noted that this third Sunday of Advent, called “Gaudete,” “exhorts us to be happy because Christmas draws near.”

John Paul II assured the parishioners that he knew of “your commitment in putting the Mass and Eucharistic adoration at the center of all parish life, as well as the care that you put into liturgical celebrations and devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, who encourages you. I know with how much faith you cultivate cordial adhesion to the Successor of Peter, to your pastors, making an effort to grow in fraternal charity, and in the ardent desire to take the Gospel of Christ, the only savior of humanity, to everyone.”

“All of your pastoral efforts,” he continued, “are inserted completely in the citizens' mission…. My wish is that the Good News of Christ may enter every home and help families to rediscover that only in Christ is man's salvation found.”


At the Sunday Angelus, recited from his study window overlooking St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul evoked the figure of St. John the Baptist, calling him “an austere man, ‘a voice crying in the desert,’ sacrificed by those in power for having told the truth without reticence, and profoundly current.”

“John's Gospel presents him to us as ‘the witness to the light,’” said the Pope. “The light he points to is not only a moral truth, it is the person of Christ, who does not hesitate to say of himself: ‘I am the light of the world.’”

“Yes,” he stated, “Christ is light because, in his divine identity, he reveals the face of the Father. But he also is [light] because, a man like us, similar in all things except sin, he reveals man to himself. Unfortunately sin has obscured in us the capacity to know and follow the light of truth…. With the Incarnation, the Word of God came to bring man to full light.”

Following these meditations, the Holy Father, as is customary at this time of year, blessed the “bambinelli,” the statues of the Child Jesus that Rome's children brought to St. Peter's Square. “I repeat with joy this gesture,” he said, greeting children from Rome and throughout the world, “which has an aura of family and simplicity, that simplicity with which St. Francis of Assisi taught contemplation of the mystery of the birth of the Savior.”


On Monday the Holy Father nominated Msgrs. Pierre Calime, of the Diocese of Autun, France, and James Dillenburg, of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., as consultors of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. (VIS)