ROME — Pope Francis confirmed Monday that he will travel to the United States in September, 2015 for a Vatican-sponsored meeting on the family in Philadelphia.
“According to the wishes of the Lord,” Francis said, he’ll make the trip.
Although the Vatican usually doesn’t confirm papal outings until a month or so ahead of the scheduled dates, papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed that it’s been marked down in the calendar.
Although Francis has made reference to a US trip before, today’s confirmation underlines his intentions.
During the plane ride back from South Korea in mid-August, the pontiff expressed his desire to participate in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. At the time, he suggested that he may make a visit to New York, to address the United Nations General Assembly, and to Washington, DC to speak to a joint session of Congress.
A visit to the Mexico-US border, a corridor for thousands of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking, has also been mentioned.
Francis made his remarks while attending a conference on the “complementarity” of men and women, a term used in Catholic thought to denote the idea that the two genders have distinct roles that complement one another.
In his opening remarks to the conference attendees, he defended the Church’s traditional vision of family life, one month after a landmark summit of Catholic bishops on the family held in the same synod hall.
During the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family, prelates from around the world debated how much of an opening the Catholic Church ought to make to non-traditional relationships such as same-sex unions, but also made clear there would be no change to Church teaching.
The pontiff’s defense of the family Monday as a lifetime bond between a man and a woman, open to children, was unflinching.
“Children have the right to grow up in a family with a mom and a dad, capable of creating a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity,” the pontiff said.
Francis urged his audience not to reduce the importance of families by defining them in terms of political notions.
“Family is an anthropological fact — a socially and culturally related fact,” he said. “We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history.”
Defending the family, the pope said, is neither conservative nor liberal.
“Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions,” he said.
Pope Francis’ speech Monday was his second public address on the family since the end of the Synod of Bishops. The complementarity conference brings together 350 experts from 14 different faiths, including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and various Christian denominations.
As he did when talking to the members of the Catholic movement Schoenstatt on Oct. 27, Francis asserted that the family is in crisis: “We live in a culture of the provisional, as more and more people consider marriage as a public commitment.”
The pope called for “a new human ecology, based in solidarity and family love that inherently includes men and women, boys and girls, youth and elderly.”
To the pontiff, the revolt against traditional notions of the family has been made waving the flag of freedom but, said Francis, “it actually brought material and spiritual devastation to many, especially the most vulnerable.”
“There is growing evidence that the decline of the culture of marriage is associated with an increase in poverty and a host of many other social problems that disproportionately affect women, children, and the elderly,” the pope said.
Francis also said that complementarity shouldn’t be confused with the “simplistic idea that all the roles and relationships of both sexes are locked into a single model and are static.”
He said complementarity takes various forms because every man and woman contributes particular things to a marriage and the education of children.
“Their personal wealth, their charisma generates a complementarity of great wealth,” the pope said.
Toward the end of his speech, Francis expressed his wish to see the conference inspire those who support and strengthen the union of “man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental, and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.”
Also making remarks was German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, one of the organizers of the colloquium as head of the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal department.
Muller said that “children have a natural, inherent right to a father and a mother to live with them.”
On a more theological level, he said that when sexual differences are forgotten, it becomes difficult to understand God’s spousal bond with his people.
Referring to the interreligious nature of the meeting, Muller said: “What import does the complementarity between man and woman have for the relationship between the human person and God? It is this question that each of our cultural and religious traditions is inviting you answer.”
Former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks, gave a magisterial tour of the history of pair-bonding, defining polygamy as the “ultimate expression of inequality.”
To Sacks, “the miracle of monotheism is that unity up there [pointing to heaven] creates diversity down here.”
The rabbi defined marriage as a covenant to love and trust; to achieve as a couple what neither can achieve alone. He defended the protection of the male-female bond, stating that the collapse of marriage has created a new form of poverty: An increase in children’s eating disorders, abuse, suicide, depression, anxiety, and despair.
And in what was the first reference to same-sex coupling, Sacks said that “compassion for those who choose to live differently shouldn’t inhibit us from being advocates for the most humanizing institution of history.”
Anglican Archbishop Nicholas Okoh; the Rev. Richard Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Bostonian Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers are among the participants in the three-day colloquium.
American scholar Helen Alvare, spokeswoman for the conference, told Crux that the gathering as an attempt to propose anew the beauty of the natural union of man and woman in marriage.