In the Heart of the Church
Family, Become What you Are!
Message from the 32nd Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in
February 16-19, 2004
San Antonio, Texas
The following is a message the Bishops of the Church in America
issued during their meeting in San Antonio affirming the fundamental
value and importance of the family.
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
Family, become what you are: 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 center 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. 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. 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 and brings hope to the
Family, become what you are: Salt of the earth, light of the
God entrusted the world's garden to a family, so that life, justice
and peace could grow there. Through "creativity in charity", the
family makes present the compassion of Christ. True to its mission,
the family creates new ways for solidarity. Rooted in the faith of
Jesus Christ and nourished in the hope of his Resurrection, the
family is called to transform the world: "to recognize God in every
moment and in every thing; to contemplate God in every person; to
seek his will in all that happens." 
It is in the rhythm of daily life that families humbly but radically
change the world, as they seek to follow Jesus. Day by day, through
simple gestures that brighten the lives of others, they bring to the
heart of the world the Christian values of generosity and love. As
they evangelize their milieu, they transform daily life into an
extraordinary meeting place with God who calls Christians to be the
light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5.13-14).
Family, become what you are: ‘Good News' for all the world
Difficulties, exhaustion, conflicts and daily worries are part of
the life of all families. When parents – despite their troubles, and
despite their imperfections and weaknesses – choose kindness over
aggression, tenderness over violence, forgiveness over bitterness,
the family proclaims the victory of love, the victory of the Cross.
When this happens, family members become witnesses to the incredible
news of Jesus Christ, in whom love triumphed over death, once and
for all. Such is the mystery of family life – human beings who
transform the world by living the life of Jesus, a full life that
fulfills the deepest hopes. Not only is this a challenge and an
adventure, it is the "Good News"!
As we recall that marriage and the family are good news; we realize
that they are manifestations of the gratuitous love of God, which
shows itself through the love of spouses and in the joy of the gift
of children. In this way they become a source of joyful news for the
parents and the community.
We want to encourage couples to receive the sacrament of matrimony
and to build a family life according to the plan of Jesus. We want
to help them become aware that they are a true domestic church where
each member is invited to become a living witness of the gospel of
life in the church and in society. It is the desire of the Catholic
Church to be present and accompany couples from the time they begin
their marriage preparation and continuing throughout all the phases
In order for this to be possible, we see the necessity of preparing
the bishops and all pastoral ministers: priests, religious and lay,
to accompany these couples and these families. We must also call
upon teams of professional lay persons to help us in this work.
In this new millennium, it is true that the family is navigating
rough seas. Couples and families today carry tremendous burdens.
However, when they choose to persevere and to live in faith and
hope, they create a privileged space for human beings to be born and
to grow in unconditional love. Fathers, mothers and children reveal
God to each other and to the world – the One who accompanies us in
our daily lives, who fills us beyond all measure, and who is with us
"every day until the end of time" (Matthew 28.20).
We commend to the care of the Holy Family of Nazareth the marriages
and families of our American Continent, so that inspired in the
tender love of Mary and the fidelity of St. Joseph, they may become
joyful witnesses of the Gospel of the Family!
18 February, 2004
1 John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994, no. 3.
2 "Family, become what you are" is a phrase used by John Paul II in
Familiaris Consortio, 1982, no. 17.
3 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995, no. 92.
4 According to John Paul II, solidarity "is not a feeling of vague
compassion… it is a firm and persevering determination to commit
oneself to the common good… because we are all really responsible
for all." Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, no. 38.
5 Pontifical Council for the Family, Conclusions of the Theological
and Pastoral Congress – IV World Family Meeting, Manila, January 24,
6 John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001, no. 49.
7 John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 1999, no. 29.
Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano (CELAM)
Card. Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa; Arzobispo de Santiago de
Chile; Presidente del CELAM Mons. Carlos Aguiar Retes; Obispo de
Texcoco, México; Primer Vicepresidente Mons. Geraldo Lyrio Rocha;
Arzobispo de Vitória da Conquista, Brasil; Segundo Vicepresidente
Mons. Andrés Stanovnik, O.F.M., Cap.; Obispo de Reconquista,
Argentina; Secretario General Interino Card. Pedro Rubiano Sáenz;
Arzobispo de Bogotá, Columbia; Presidente del Comité Económico
Representantes de Conferencias Episcopales de América Latina: Card.
Julio Terrazas Sandoval, C.SS.R.; Arzobispo de Santa Cruz de la
Sierra; Pres. de la. Con. Ep. (Bolivia) Card. Geraldo Majella Agnelo;
Arzobispo de São Salvador; Presidente de la CNBB (Brasil) Mons.
Alberto Suárez Inda; Arzobispo de Morelia; Vicepresidente de la CEM
(México) Mons. Catalino Claudio Giménez Medina; Obispo de Caacupé;
Pres. de la Con. Ep. (Paraguay) Mons. Ramón Benito De La Rosa y
Carpio; Arzobispo de Santiago de los Caballeros; Pres. (Rep.Dom.)
Conférence des Évêques Catholiques du Canada (CECC) Canadian
Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB)
Archbishop Brendan M. O'Brien, Archbishop of St. John's, NF,
President Archbishop André Gaumond, Archbishop of Sherbrooke, QC,
Vice President Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber, Archbishop of
Winnipeg, MB, Co-treasurer
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory; Bishop of Belleville, Illinois; President
Bishop William S. Skylstad; Bishop of Spokane, Washington; Vice
President Archbishop James P. Keleher; Archbishop of Kansas City,
Kansas; Treasurer Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan; Archbishop of Santa
Fe, New Mexico; Secretary Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ; Bishop of
Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida; Chairman, International Policy
Bishop John R. Manz; Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, Illinois;
Chairman, Church in Latin America
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