The family ensures the survival of humanity and the growth of society.  This was emphasized by speakers from various continents at the recent international Theological-Pastoral Congress on “The Family-Gift and Commitment, Hope of Humanity”, held at Rio de Janerio, Brazil.

Among highlights of some of the talks was one by Dr. Hurbert Schambeck, president of the Federal Council of the Republic of Austria, professor for public law, philosophy of law and political science, University of Linz. He discussed the politician’s responsibility for the defence of the rights of the family.

First obligation

“The protection of life is the most important and significant obligation of a politician for the family,” Schambeck said. “Therefore the politician should use all opportunities offered by speeches, activities and by decision for a policy in favor of the family and responsible for it.”

He said the more pluralistic society is, the more it is important for it to promote basic values and constitutional and human rights. “One aspect is especially and primarily the protection of life, beginning with the protection of unborn life to the refusal of euthanasia as well as acceptance of marriage and family.”

State’s role

He cited various areas in which families can be helped, including education of children, social housing, public assistance for unmarried mothers. Schambeck also said the state should contributing its part in assisting families with their financial obligations.

Bishop Francisco Gil Hellin, secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, discussed the natural structure of the family as gift and commitment. The two aspects that constitute the essence of marriage are the conjugal communion, which is the mutual self-giving of a man and a woman, and its orientation toward the transmission and upbringing of children.

“If the structure of marriage is mutual self-giving of the spouses ordered to the transmission of life and the education of their children, these same two aspects will also constitute the task and mission of the family: to bring about the community of persons, starting from the procreation and education of the children,” Bishop Gil Hellin said.

He said that “destroying the procreative capacity of the conjugal union, in addition to being incoherent with married life, threatens the gift itself. It is not by chance, but rather a logical chain of events that after the spread of contraception, attempts have been made to legalize homosexual relations, as if they were martial unions.”

Motherhood as a nurturing component of the family was a high profile topic at the Brazil conference. Professor Janne Haaland Martlary if Oslo University in Norway, discussed motherhood as essential to society’s survival.

A gift

She emphasized that motherhood is a gift not a right, in spite of the development of various types of fertilization methods. Once pregnant, there is no right not to carry on with motherhood, she said.  Prof. Martlary said natural motherhood today is attacked in various ways …”from states eager to undermine the strength of the family, from feminists eager to divorce women from the family context, from life-style pluralists eager to rob family and its core, motherhood, of any privileged place in society.”

The time has come to fight politically and legally for motherhood’s natural rights. She cited a mother’s right to society’s support, to have the right to choose to work at home with children or the choice to work outside the home without being discriminated against.

“In many societies, this a time of crisis for motherhood, and for children,” she said. “Therefore it is also a time for mothers to mobilize, not only in building strong families, but also in fighting in the public arena. In deed, and then in word,”

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Vatican’s Committee for the Jubilee Year 2000, later discussed “The Family and Evangelization in a Secularized World towards the Jubilee Year 2000.”

He said “the family will not be a witness to, and instrument of the Gospel for the world unless it first lets itself be challenged by the Gospel. Through the principles that underlie it and the values it bears, the Christian family is different from other families. It is through the Gospel that it inceasingly renews the rhythms of existence. Therein lies its truth and nobility, its vocation and mission.”

Professor Mary Anne Gelendon, professor of law, Harvard Law School, and president of the Holy See delegation to the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 discussed the international organizations for the defence of the family.

More and more families are being impacted for good or ill by the operations of multinational corporations, regional and international organizations and non-governmental organizations, Prof. Gelendon said. She focused on the family-related activities of the United Nations and its affiliates.

In the early years, the U.N.’s involvement with families was mainly providing humanitarian assistance. Of later developments she said, “the years between 1948 and 1995, saw a steady rise in diverse movements that sought to treat the family (and religion) as obstacles to human rights, rather than as subjects of human rights protection.

“By the end of 1995, It seemed that the family-friendly principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration were in serious danger of being suppressed or distorted beyond recognition.”

Usurping parent role

“Let us fight for the right to determine democratically the conditions under which we live, work and raise our families,” she said. “Let us resist the self-appointed experts who pretend to know better than we ourselves how we should raise our children. Let us take back our children’s education from proselytizing secularists.

“Let us rescue our art, music and literature from hucksters of hedonism. Let us not starve the UN, but let us put it on a wholesome diet. Let us pledge ourselves to play whatever role we can in building the civilization of life and resisting culture of death.”

Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, spoke on the defence of the family from the church’s perspective.
He offered a message of hope that includes protecting human dignity within the scared context of the home, where families in self-giving and love are open to the gift of life.