Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives for an evening service with families during the World Meeting of Families in Milan, Italy, on June 2. CNS photoPope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives for an evening service with families during the World Meeting of Families in Milan, Italy, on June 2. CNS photoChurch-organised event focuses on balance between work demands and family needs

MILAN, ITALY – From May 30-June 3, about one million people from 153 countries braved dawn wake-up calls, shouldered supply-laden backpacks and prodded along sleepy kids to take part in the World Meeting of Families in Milan, Italy.

During the closing Mass, Pope Benedict XVI called for Church unity, emphasised marriage as between a man and a woman, urged parents to keep the transcendent alive in a world that adores the high-tech over high ideals, and urged kids to respect and love their family.

The Church-organised event is held every three years to help families live out their Christian values.

The theme for the five-day meeting was how to balance work demands, family needs and religious celebration.

The pope upbraided economic theories that advocate that the best policies, markets and work ethics are those that push the most product and reap the most profit.

“The one-sided logic of sheer utility and maximum profit are not conducive to harmonious development, to the good of the family or to building of a more just society, because it brings in its wake ferocious competition, strong inequalities, degradation of the environment, the race for consumer goods and family tensions,” he said.

Such a “utilitarian mentality” takes a toll on the family and social relationships “reducing them to a fragile convergence of individual interests and undermining the solidity of the social fabric”, he added.

The pope spent nearly three full days meeting local citizens, Religious, government and business leaders, and Catholic young people and families from around the world.

He also hosted a lunch for 100 poor families who live in Milan, but come from various countries.

God, who suffered with humanity made people capable of sharing the suffering of others and of turning that pain into love, he said on June 1.

He urged faith communities and secular governments at events held from June 1-2 to work together for the common good by having people of faith live their values in all areas of life.

The Church offers its teaching and input as a service to society, he said, as he urged governments to be just and guarantee liberty, based on natural law, for everyone “beginning with the right to life of which its deliberate suppression can never be allowed”.

On June 2, at Milan’s San Siro soccer stadium, he told some 80,000 boys and girls who were or would be recently confirmed that they, too, can be saints as they let the Holy Spirit guide them to use their talents for the good of the community.

“You are called to great things,” he said, telling them to keep their aims high. He told them to study and work hard, obey their parents, help others and be selfless “because egoism is the enemy of joy”.

At an evening vigil marked by testimonies from families all over the world and international music by well-known artistes, the pope shared the joys and sufferings of the world’s families.

Five couples and families went up on stage one group at a time to ask him a personal question or appeal for advice.

The first, a seven-year-old girl from Vietnam, wanted to know what it was like growing up in his home.

The pope said that even though Germany at the time was suffering from dictatorship and war, his childhood was “unforgettable” and joyful as his home was always filled with music, faith and love. He also enjoyed long walks in the woods then.

A Brazilian family raised the issue of divorced couples who have remarried and cannot receive the sacraments.

The pope affirmed that “this is one of the great causes of suffering for the Church today, and we do not have simple solutions”.

“Naturally, one very important factor is prevention,” he said. “This means ensuring that, from the beginning, the act of falling love is transformed in a more profound and mature decision.

“Another factor is that of accompanying people during marriage, to ensure that families are never alone but find authentic company on their journey. We must tell people in this situation that the Church loves them, but they must see and feel this love.”

Parishes and other Catholic communities “must do everything possible so that such people feel loved and accepted, that they are not ‘outsiders’ even if they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist”, he said.

“Even without the ‘corporeal’ assumption of the sacrament, we can be spiritually united to Christ,” the pope said.

The pope later offered a few impromptu words of thanks to all present. His remarks seemed to allude to the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, which has dominated recent press coverage of the Vatican and led to the arrest of the pope’s personal assistant on charges of possessing stolen documents.

“If at times it seems that the boat of Peter is really in the midst of adverse winds, it’s true,” Pope Benedict said. “Yet we see that the Lord is present, alive, that the risen one is truly alive and has taken in hand the government of the world and the heart of men.”

Daniel and Shelley Ee, from Singapore’s Marriage Encounter movement, who attended the meeting, said they found it enriching.

“I was encouraged to see so many people interested in building strong families for the sake of society and future generations,” said Mr Ee.

“For me, while I learned much from the speakers, what made this a special conference were the people I met,” shared Mrs Ee, adding that she was grateful for their Italian hosts’ “intimate sharing of their lives at the dinner table”.

“Their lessons of life as couple, parents and now grandparents of nine are invaluable which textbooks cannot provide,” she said.

Mr Michael Ee, 22, the couple’s son, shared: “Having listened to talks that raised issues on how the modern family has changed with the equality of women, globalisation, the advancement of technology and the widening of income gaps, it was heartening and humbling to discover that families across continents all desired the same strong relational bond that is exemplified by the Holy Family.

“What struck me was that family members have to acknowledge that they cannot reach that ideal and that at the core of family life lies loving each other unconditionally. It is in loving reciprocally and complementarily that really distinguishes a Catholic family as strong, versatile, and equipped to meet the challenges of today.”

The next World Meeting of Families will be held in Philadelphia. USA. CNS, VIS

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