Francis Expected To Focus On How To Build Stronger Families

Pope Francis arrives in the United States next Tuesday on what will be his inaugural visit to our country. Much ink has already been spilt hypothesizing about what this Argentinian will think about our country—will he understand our traditions, our history, our values? I would suggest the key to understanding this visit can be found by revisiting a previous trip of his from two years ago.

On the flight back to Rome after his 2013 trip to Brazil, Pope Francis spent an unprecedented amount of time fielding questions from reporters. His responses were unscripted and reveal the heart of this man who is now well known for surprising even his closest advisors. When one reporter was badgering him about gay marriage and gender ideology, an exasperated Francis refused to be caught up in the politics of it all. He threw his hands in the air and stated the very obvious to the reporter—and to the world—”the family is in crisis.”

Just days earlier he had spoken to that crisis while addressing the young people of Rio: “Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘forever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.”

It’s from this perspective that we should understand his motivation for visiting the United States, where the primary purpose of his visit is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Yes, he will visit Washington and New York to address Congress and the United Nations but in many respects those are just stops along the way. In Philadelphia, families from all across the world will be gathered all week long to spend time in thought, prayer, and discussion to work together in building stronger families. Francis’s visit will be a pastoral one—to offer his own thoughts and hopes on how this task can be accomplished.

But it’s evident this task is a difficult one. On that same 2013 trip to Brazil, Francis urged a renewed focus on family life: “The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”

From the dais of Congress or the General Assembly, Francis will place the family at the very center of his concerns. Many have tried to hyper-politicize his visit and have speculated that he will focus his remarks on the environment or the economy. Yes, he will certainly speak on these subjects but what must be understood is that for Francis all of these matters are connected. For Francis, strong families help in building a strong economy and respect for creation requires a recognition that the natural family must be valued and protected. In his much-discussed document on the environment at the beginning of the summer, he began by reminding the entire world that family is the “primary cell of society.” That statement didn’t get a lot of media play, but it was at the very heart of his concerns.

Francis also knows that he will be arriving in America just a few short months after same-sex marriage has been made the law of the land, but he’s no stranger to this debate. In 2010 when he was then the Cardinal of Buenos Aires, he publicly clashed with the President of his country when she attempted to legalize same-sex marriage there. As he reminded his fellow countrymen at the time, “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.” We can expect that he’ll use this visit as an occasion as a chance to remind our own country just what is at stake for us, as well.

So what will Francis discover when he arrives on our soil next week? And will he understand our ways and our values? Absolutely. He’ll appreciate the fact that we’re a country rooted in a commitment to faith and freedom. But he’ll also remind us that a strong family is an essential part in protecting both.

And in all likelihood, this visit from a foreigner to a new land will help us recover something that is at risk of being forgotten.