Winter 2020

The Mission of the Christian Family According to St. John Paul II

Livio Melina

“You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14): the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples echoed on the lips of St. John Paul II in his address to families: “Each family brings a light and every family is a light,”1 a light that must illuminate the way of the Church and the future of the world. It was Saturday, October 8, 1994, and in St. Peter’s Square thousands of families had gathered for the first world meeting called for by the Eastern European pope at the end of the Year of the Family. On that unforgettable evening, bathed in the warm Roman October, the square teemed with the flickering lights everyone carried in their hands. This spectacle certainly inspired the pope in his impromptu speech, which came right from his heart after many days of prayer.

It was not a spontaneous vision without theological foundation. On the contrary, at the Second Vatican Council the Church tried to elaborate on her identity: “Church, what do you say of yourself?” And the answer was, “I am Lumen gentium, the light of the world.” If Christ is the light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, the Church reflects his glory for the benefit of all peoples (cf. Lumen gentium, 1). It is precisely the conciliar constitution Lumen gentium that speaks of the Christian family as a “small domestic church” (11), which therefore also brings to the world the light of Christ. Every family brings an indispensable light to the path of humanity, a light in the life of every person, because it reflects the original truth of the vocation to love, which is inscribed by the Creator in the heart of every man and woman. Every one of us, born into a family, lives off the memory of this light. The mission of the family is therefore precisely to shine the light of Christ in the world. But how can we bring this about today, in the context of current transformations?


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1. John Paul II, Address to Families and Pilgrims at the World Meeting of Families (Vatican City, 8 October 1994), 6.