ROME – Raising kids is always a balancing act, pitting the natural desire to protect children from harm against the need to let them stretch their wings. In that context, Pope Francis offered a bit of practical parenting advice Saturday and urged families not to be anxious and overprotective.

“How important it is for parents to reflect on God’s way of acting!” Francis said Saturday, June 25.

“God loves young people, but that does not mean that he preserves them from all risk, from every challenge, and from all suffering. God is not anxious and overprotective; on the contrary, he trusts young people, and he calls each of them to scale the heights of life and of mission,” the pope said.

Francis added that those who have known the beauty of the family are called to defend it today more than ever, to prevent it from being poisoned by what he called “the toxins of selfishness, individualism, today’s culture of indifference and waste, and as a result lose its very DNA, which is the spirit of acceptance and service.”

The pope’s remarks came as he celebrated a closing Mass for the 10th World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Rome as well as being held in dioceses around the world simultaneously. Two thousand people from over the world, mostly lay men and women, attended the meeting in Rome.

Once again limited in his movements due to a troubled right knee, Francis did not lead the celebration, as has been the case for several major liturgies during the past months. He arrived at the altar on the popemobile and walked the few steps to his chair with a cane, instead of the wheelchair he uses during most private audiences these days.

American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who leads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life that organized the meeting, presided over the celebration.

Pope Francis delivered the homily, in which he said that many parents fear that their children won’t find their way amid the complexity and confusion created by society, where “everything seems chaotic and precarious,” and will lose their way as a result.

“This fear makes some parents anxious and others overprotective. At times, it even ends up thwarting the desire to bring new lives into the world,” Francis said.

Instead of being moved by fear, he urged parents to be moved by the word of God that shows it is not necessary to “shield our children from the slightest hardship and suffering, but to try to communicate to them a passion for life, to arouse in them the desire to discover their vocation and embrace the great mission that God has in mind for them.”

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Francis told married couples that in building their families, “with the help of Christ’s grace,” they made a courageous decision: “To use your freedom not for yourselves, but to love the persons that God has put at your side. Instead of living like little islands, you became ‘slaves of one another.’ That is how freedom is exercised in the family.”

Earlier in his homily, the pontiff said that Christ had set humanity free from the slavery of selfishness, the tendency “all of us are born” towards, making oneself the center of everything and being concerned with nothing else but personal interests. The freedom granted by God, Francis said, is not the false freedom of the world that is nothing more than self-indulgence.

The family, he said, is not a series of planets or satellites, each on their own orbit. Instead, it is a place of encounter and sharing, where people welcome others and stand by one another.

In short, he said, the family “is the first place where we learn to love,” and this is something that needs to be reaffirmed with conviction, even if “we also know full well that it is not always the case, for any number of reasons and a variety of situations.”

At the end of the Mass, Farrell announced that the next gathering of families with Pope Francis will be during the “Jubilee of Families,” which will be celebrated in Rome as part of the Jubilee of 2025, while the 11th World Meeting of Families will take place in 2028.

On Sunday, after leading the weekly Angelus prayer, Pope Francis is expected to send the families forth to bring into their dioceses and their ministries what they lived during the five-day event in Rome.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma