Brothers and sisters, forgiveness heals every wound. Forgiveness is a gift welling up from the grace that Christ showers on couples and whole families whenever we let him act, whenever we turn to him. It was wonderful that you celebrated your own “feast of forgiveness” with your children, and renewed your marriage promises at the celebration of Mass. It made me think of the feast that, in Jesus’ parable, the father organized for his prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:20-24). Only this time, the ones who went astray were the parents, not the child! “Prodigal parents”. Yet this too is wonderful and can be a great witness for children. Young people, as they emerge from infancy, begin to realize that their parents are not “superheroes”; they are not all-powerful, much less perfect. In you, your children saw something much more important: they saw the humility to beg forgiveness and the God-given strength to pick yourselves up after the fall. This is something that children really need! For they too will make mistakes in life and realize that they too are not perfect, but they will also remember that the Lord raises us up, that all of us are forgiven sinners, that we have to beg forgiveness from others but also be able to forgive ourselves. The lesson that they learned from you will remain in their hearts forever. It was good for us too, to hear this. Thank you for your witness of forgiveness!
4. “A step forward” towards welcome. Thank you, Iryna and Sofia, for your witness. You gave a voice to all those persons whose lives have been devastated by the war in Ukraine. In you, we see the faces and the stories of so many men and women forced to leave their homeland. We thank you, for you have not lost your trust in providence and you have seen how God is at work in your lives, not least through the flesh and blood people he led you to encounter: host families, the doctors who helped you, and other kind-hearted men and women. The war brought you face to face with cynicism and human brutality, yet you also encountered people of great humanity. People at their worst and people at their best! It is important for all of us not to keep dwelling on the worst, but to maximize the best, the great goodness of which every man and woman is capable, and from there to start over again.
I thank you also, Pietro and Erika, for telling your own story, and for the generosity with which you welcomed Iryna and Sofia into your already large family. You shared with us that you did so out of gratitude to God and with a spirit of faith, as a call from the Lord. Erika told us that welcoming them was a “blessing from heaven”. Indeed, welcoming is a genuine “charism” of families, and especially of large families! We may think that, in a large home, it is harder to welcome other people; yet that is not the case, for families with numerous children are “trained” to make room for others. They always have room for others.
In the end, this is what family is all about. In the family, we experience what it is to be welcomed. Husbands and wives are the first to “welcome” and accept one another, as they said they would do on the day of their marriage: “I take you…” Later, as they bring a child into the world, they welcome that new life. Whereas in cold and anonymous situations, the weak are often rejected, in families it is natural to welcome them: to accept a child with a disability, an elderly person in need of care, a family member in difficulty who has no one else… This gives hope. Families are places of welcome, and woe if they were to disappear! Society would become cold and unbearable without welcoming families. Welcome and generous families give “warmth” to society.
5. “A step forward” towards fraternity. I thank you, Zakia, for having shared your story with us. It is amazing and consoling that what you and Luca built together remains alive. Your story was born and built on the sharing of very high ideals that you described when you said: “We based our family on authentic love, with respect, solidarity and dialogue between our cultures”. Nothing of that was lost, not even after the tragedy of Luca’s death. Not only do the example and the spiritual legacy of Luca continue to live on and to speak to the consciences of many people, but also the organization that Zakia founded in some way carries on his mission. Indeed, we can say that Luca’s diplomatic mission has now become “a mission of peace” on the part of your entire family. In your story, we see clearly how what is human and what is religious can become intertwined and bring forth precious fruit. In Zakia and Luca, we find the beauty of human love, passion for life, altruism and fidelity to one’s own beliefs and religious tradition, as a source of inspiration and interior strength.
Your family expresses the ideal of fraternity. In addition to being husband and wife, you lived as brother and sister in your humanity, in your differing religious experiences, and in your commitment to society. This too is a lesson that is learned in the family. Living in the family together with others different from ourselves, we learn to be brothers and sisters. We learn to overcome divisions, prejudices and narrow-mindedness, and to build together something grand, something beautiful, on the basis of what we have in common. Lived examples of fraternity, like that of Luca and Zakia, give us hope; they help us to look with greater confidence at our world, so torn by division and hostility. Thank you for this example of fraternity!
I don’t not want to move on from Luca and you without mentioning your mother. She is here, and she has always been at your side. This is the goodness that mothers-in-law bring to families, good mothers-in-law and good mothers! I thank her for coming with you today.
Dear friends, each of your families has a mission to carry out in our world, a testimony to give. We the baptized are especially called to be “a message that the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 21). For this reason, I would like you to ask yourselves this question: What is the word that the Lord wants to speak through our life to all those whom we meet? What “step forward” is he asking of our family, my family, today? Everyone should ask this. Stop and listen. Let yourselves be changed by him, so that you too can change the world and make it “home” for all those who need to feel welcomed and accepted, for all those who need to encounter Christ and to know that they are loved. We need to live with our eyes raised to heaven: as Blessed Maria and Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi used to say to their children, confronting the efforts and joys of life, “always looking from the roof upwards”.
I thank you for coming here. I thank you for the efforts you make in raising your families. Keep moving forward, with courage and with joy. And please, don’t forget to pray for me.