Pope Benedict XVI spread wide his arms to the million plus faithful gathered for Mass in Valencia today, saying, “I greet all of you with an affectionate embrace.”  Celebrating the conclusion of the Fifth World Meeting of Families, the Pontiff welcomed the gathered pilgrims, as well as all those listening and watching by various media, speaking to them about the powerful presence of God in families.

The Pope’s homily for the occasion had been long anticipated by the press - many expecting Benedict to speak forcefully about the Church’s stance on homosexual “marriage.”  While the Pope did not avoid the “hot button” issue, his comments were woven into the fabric of the Church’s larger view of marriage and the family, which, he said, is a “message of hope.”

“The family,” the Holy Father said, “founded on indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman,” is designed to express our interconnectedness as human beings and our reliance on others.  

“None of us gave ourselves life or single-handedly learned how to live,” Benedict told the crowd, which was teeming with families. “All of us received from others both life itself and its basic truths, and we have been called to attain perfection in relationship and loving communion with others."

The family, he said, “is the setting where men and women are enabled to be born with dignity, and to grow and develop in an integral manner.  Parents have the right and the inalienable duty to transmit this heritage to their children: to help them find their own identity, to initiate them to the life of society, to foster the responsible exercise of their moral freedom and their ability to love on the basis of their having been loved and, above all, to enable them to encounter God.”

Formed by their parents in terms of their inherited tradition and inherent free will, children, “are thus enabled to make a personal synthesis between what has been passed on and what is new, a synthesis that every individual and generation is called to make.”

This view of the family is not something simply of this world, but a reality which is tied to the divine, the Pope said, “At the origin of every man and woman, and thus in all human fatherhood and motherhood, we find God the Creator. For this reason, married couples must accept the child born to them, not simply as theirs alone, but also as a child of God, loved for his or her own sake and called to be a son or daughter of God.”

Therefore all children are also called to be children of God, Benedict said. As such parents are charged with teaching their children the faith, which brings them in contact with their heavenly creator.  Mothers and fathers must let their children know the eternal reality of which they are a part, the Pope said.  “At the origin of every human being there is not something haphazard or chance, but a loving plan of God,” he reminded.  

Pope Benedict, who’s visit to traditionally Catholic Spain comes as the country continues to battle with itself over its increasingly secular identity, told the crowd that, “Faith…is not merely a cultural heritage, but the constant working of the grace of God who calls and our human freedom, which can respond or not to his call…Christian parents are still called to give a credible witness of their Christian faith and hope. “

“The Christian family passes on the faith when parents teach their children to pray and when they pray with them (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 60); when they lead them to the sacraments and gradually introduce them to the life of the Church; when all join in reading the Bible, letting the light of faith shine on their family life and praising God as our Father.”

“In contemporary culture,” Pope Benedict said, “we often see an excessive exaltation of the freedom of the individual as an autonomous subject, as if we were self-created and self-sufficient, apart from our relationship with others and our responsibilities in their regard.  Attempts are being made to organize the life of society on the basis of subjective and ephemeral desires alone, with no reference to objective, prior truths such as the dignity of each human being and his inalienable rights and duties, which every social group is called to serve.

“The Church does not cease to remind us that true human freedom derives from our having been created in God’s image and likeness,” the pope proclaimed. “Christian education is consequently an education in freedom and for freedom.”

The love of parents for children should be a sign and continuation of the love which God has for us, the Pope said.  This allows us to understand how to enter into communion with one another and with the Lord.

As such, Benedict said, Church associations and parishes should work tirelessly to support both the institution of marriage between a man and woman, and families themselves.

Echoing the words of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, “Familiaris Consortio”, the Holy Father called on all Christians, “’to collaborate cordially and courageously with all people of good will who are serving the family in accordance with their responsibility,’ so that by joining forces in a legitimate plurality of initiatives they will contribute to the promotion of the authentic good of the family in contemporary society.”

Every family who asks for the help of God will be constantly strengthened, the Pope concluded, by the grace which comes from the sacrament of marriage, the Holy Spirit who makes God present in the love of husband and wife, and Mary, “the image and model of all mothers.”