Francis asks families to combat ‘desertification’ of modern cities

A child watches as Pope Francis leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Aug. 30. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Vatican City — Pope Francis has called on families around the world to combat what he has termed a “desertification” of modern cities, of a contradiction between the ability to find entertainment of every kind but yet experience no sense of love or joy from one another.

“The covenant of the family with God is called today to get in the way of the ‘community desertification’ of the modern city,” said the pontiff, speaking Wednesday at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“Our cities have become ‘desertified’ by the lack of love, by the lack of the smile,” he said. “[There are] many things to lose time, to make you smile, but love is missing.”

“The smile of a family is capable of winning this ‘desertification’ of our cities,” said Francis. “And this is the victory of love of the family. Not one political or economic engineer is able to substitute this contribution of families.”

“The project of Babel builds skyscrapers without life,” he said. “The spirit of God, instead, makes the desert bloom.”

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Francis was speaking Wednesday as part of a series of reflections he has been giving in his general audiences on different aspects of family life. He focused this week's reflection on how Jesus calls on Christian families to go outside of themselves and to share love widely, with society and each other.

The pontiff was reflecting in his remarks on a reading taken from Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus commissions his disciples with some harsh words: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

The pope said Jesus’ words do not “cancel out” the Fourth Commandment to love and honor your mother and father, but rather expand the scope of the commandment to call on Christians to share their family ties in much larger ways.

“These same family ties, because of the experience of the faith and the love of God, become transformed, become ‘filled’ by a greater sense,” said Francis. “[They] become capable of going outside themselves, to create a fuller paternity and maternity, and to welcome as brothers and sisters even those that are at the margins of every bond.”

“The knowledge of affection that you cannot buy and you cannot sell is the best gift of the familial genius,” he said. “Truly in family we learn to grow in that atmosphere of knowledge of affection. You learn your ‘grammar’ there, otherwise it is difficult to learn it. And it is truly by this language through which God makes Gods- self understood by all.”

“The invitation to put family ties in the environment of obedience to the faith and the covenant with the Lord does not demean them,” said the pontiff. “On the contrary, it protects them, it releases them from selfishness, it guards them from decay, it keeps them safe so that life does not die.”

“When familial affection becomes converted to the witness of the Gospel, it becomes capable of unthinkable things,” he continued. “[Things] that do with our hands the works of God, the works that God completes in history -- like those that Jesus did for the men, women, and children he met.”

“One single man and one single woman, capable of risking and sacrificing themselves for another’s child … illustrates to us things of love that many scientists do not understand,” said the pope. “And where there are these familial affections; these gestures from the heart that speak to us more strongly than words … This makes you think!”

Calling on families to combat ‘desertification’ of the modern city, Francis asked those in the audience: “Let’s go ahead on this path, not losing hope.”

“Where there is a family with love, that family is capable of ‘reheating’ the heart of a whole city with its witness of love,” said the pope.

“Pray for me -- let’s pray one for each other -- so that we become capable of recognizing and supporting the visits of God,” the pontiff asked. “[That] the Spirit will bring disorganized happiness to Christian families, and the city of man finds a way out of its depression!”

At the end of his audience, Francis said he also wanted to “fervently” appeal again for the end of conflicts around the world.

“Never again war!” the pontiff again appealed. “It is the heartfelt cry that rises to the Prince of Peace from our hearts and from the hearts of all the men and women of good will.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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