Crowds gather as Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin on Aug. 25 during his visit to Ireland. (Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP)
What is family to each one of us and how important is it to belong to a family? We all greatly desire and long for the secure "happy family" whose members love and trust each other, share solidarity, give mutual help and care, and are faithful to shared values and goals.
They live and work together to meet the basic human needs of all. This is the ideal and beautiful to behold, but, sadly and tragically, reality is frequently far different. So what is the modern family?
This is a question that was supposed to be discussed during the Ninth World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland, this month.
In this fast-changing world, the traditional understanding of "family" has given way to many kinds of "families." Human relationships, partnerships, groupings are evolving and are being recognized by society and the state. Same-sex marriage is common, such couples adopt children and form a family.
There is what is called the blended family. These come together when divorced or separated people come to live as one family and they bring their children from former relationships. They form different family units that are very different from the traditional family of two parents with children, grandparents and relatives.
The World Meeting of Families is the biggest public event in all of Europe this year as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, visitors, guests, and onlookers, and families join the various celebrations, symposiums, meetings, and the Festivals of Families. Pope Francis was there for a pastoral visit. He attended various functions and celebrated the closing Mass on Aug. 26.
The hundreds of thousands of people have that one thing in common: that they came from a "family." They might be couples that don't have children for one reason or another. They too have family and count their relatives and even friends as "family."
So family can be said to be a basic unit in society consisting of several people that are dedicated to each other in solidarity to survive by having mutual commitment for life and live under one roof. It is a unit that is recognized by society.
While there are different kinds of families, the most common kind is the one formed by two parents that have children. In this kind of family, the main task and purpose is to make a commitment to each other to care for and protect their children.
While there are millions of strong, caring, happy families in the world, there are as many that are unhappy. It's a kind of wonder that there are so many good parents caring for their families, sacrificing, striving, working, and loving each other. They are bringing up their children endowed with spiritual values and providing for their needs and wants.
How did the parents become positive like that? The school that provides the lower to the highest form of education does not normally provide a comprehensive training course on "how to be a good loving parent."
Is it necessary, would it help make better parents and happier families? For sure, it would be a big help because all positive knowledge and learning help us to be better, wiser persons. The extent of its positive impact is still widely unknown except to those happy couples that had such training in parenting.
If they did not have a training course, where did the good parents learn to be good parents? For some, it was because of the most essential element of all in a family: "teaching by good example." No school training course can surpass that. Nor can the innate instinctual virtue of wanting to protect and nurture one's own child.
Most rearing of children is passed on from one parent to another. That is why a happy learning and active childhood is essential for a child to grow up and be a good loving parent. They have to see goodness, feel loved, and learn from the good example of their parents.
What society needs is a personal formational training on how to be good parents and care and protect children. Parents ought to undertake the value formation of their children, too. This is a serious obligation and one that will bond the parents to their children.
The greatest threat to the family nowadays is indifference by parents to their children. Somehow, there are parents who leave nature to teach their children. But moral education is what leads the children to accept, cherish, and live out family values.
If they see and experience it in their parents, they too will want to follow their parents' example and they will form a values-based family. This is what is essential, to teach children by word and deed, teaching them knowledge of their dignity as persons endowed with rights, teaching them to respect each other and their neighbor, and the neighbor is always the person in need.
Respect for each other, taught by word and deed, in a family, is what brings them together and forms the basis of love. The commitment to respect each other's rights and dignity is renewed in parents and in children, and forms the happy family. They can stand together in friendship overcoming all challenges.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sexual abuse.