On September 22-27, 2015, Philadelphia will welcome the World Meeting of Families 2015, which is expected to draw a global audience. In June 2012, the 7th World Meeting, held in Milan, Italy, drew hundreds of thousands to the city with more than one million attending the Holy Father’s Mass.

Since its inception by Blessed John Paul II in 1994, the World Meeting of Families has sought to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe. Each World Meeting of Families has a theme, which aims to emphasize the good news of the family and highlight its intrinsic value to the good of society. The theme for the 2015 World Meeting of Families is “Love is our mission: the family fully alive.”

The following is the text of Pope Francis’ first catechesis on the family, delivered last December, leading up to this year’s World Meeting of Families.

Final 2014 General Audience Address: On Jesus’ Choice to Be Part of a Family

“As Mary and Joseph did, every Christian family can first of all receive Jesus, listen to him, talk with him, guard and protect him, grow with him, and thus improve the world.”

Vatican City, December 17, 2014  (Zenit.org)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

The Synod of Bishops on the Family just held was the first stage of a journey, which will end next October with the holding of another Assembly on the theme “The Family’s Vocation and Mission in the Church and in the World.” The prayer and reflection that must accompany this journey involves the whole People of God. I would also like the usual meditations of the Wednesday Audiences to be inserted in this common journey. Therefore, I have decided to reflect this year with you precisely on the family, on this great gift that the Lord has made to the world since the beginning, when He conferred on Adam and Eve the mission to multiply and fill the earth (cf. Gen 1:28) — that gift that Jesus has confirmed and sealed in his Gospel.

The closeness of Christmas sheds great light on this mystery. The Incarnation of the Son of God opens a new beginning in the universal history of man and woman. And this new beginning takes place within a family at Nazareth. Jesus was born in a family. He could have come spectacularly, or as a warrior, an emperor … No, no: he came as a son of a family, in a family. This is important: to contemplate in the Crib this very beautiful scene.

God chose to be born in a human family, which He Himself formed. He formed it in a forgotten village of the periphery of the Roman Empire. Not at Rome, which was the capital of the Empire, not in a great city, but in an almost invisible periphery, in fact, rather ill-famed. The Gospels recall this, almost as a way of saying: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Perhaps, in many parts of the world, we still speak like this, when we hear the name of some peripheral place of a large city. Well, in fact from there, from that periphery of the great Empire, the most holy and good story began — that of Jesus among men. And this family was there.

Jesus stayed in that periphery for 30 years. The Evangelist Luke summarizes this period thus: “Jesus was obedient to them” [namely, Mary and Joseph]. And someone might say: “But this God, who came to save us, wasted thirty years there, in that ill-famed periphery?” He wasted so many years! He willed this. Jesus’ way was in that family. His Mother kept all these things in her heart, and “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:51). There is no talk of miracles and healings, of preaching – he did not do any in that time. At Nazareth, everything seemed to be happening “normally,” in keeping with the customs of a pious and hard-working Jewish family: they worked, the Mother cooked, and did all the things of the house, ironed shirts … everything a mother does. The Father, a carpenter, worked and taught his son to work – for 30 years. “But what waste, Father!” God’s ways are mysterious. However, what was important there was the family! And this was not a waste! They were great Saints: Mary, the holiest woman, immaculate, and Joseph, the most just man… the family.

We will certainly be moved by the account of how Jesus, as an adolescent, attended the meetings of the religious community and carried out the duties of the social life; in knowing how, as a young worker, he worked with Joseph; and then his way of taking part in listening to the Scriptures, to the praying of the Psalms and in so many other things of daily life. In their sobriety, the Gospels do not say anything about Jesus’ adolescence and leave this task to our affectionate meditation. Art, literature and music have followed the way of imagination. It is certainly not difficult to imagine how much mothers can learn from Mary’s care for that Son! And how much fathers can draw from the example of Joseph, just man who dedicated his life to supporting and defending the child and his spouse – his family – in difficult moments! Not to say how much youngsters can be encouraged by the adolescent Jesus, in understanding the need and beauty of cultivating their most profound vocation, and of dreaming great things! And in those 30 years Jesus cultivated the vocation for which the Father sent him. And, in that time, Jesus was never discouraged, but he grew in courage to go forward with his mission.

As Mary and Joseph did, every Christian family can first of all receive Jesus, listen to him, talk with him, guard and protect him, grow with him, and thus improve the world. Let us make a place in our heart and in our days for the Lord. As Mary and Joseph also did, and it was not easy: how many difficulties they had to surmount! It was not an artificial family; it was not an unreal family. The family of Nazareth commits us to rediscover the vocation and mission of the family, of every family. And, as happened in those 30 years at Nazareth, so it can also happen for us: to make love and not hatred normal, to make mutual help common, not indifference and enmity. It is no accident, then, that “Nazareth” means “She who guards,” as the Gospel says Mary did, who “kept all these things in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:19). Since then, every time there is a family  — even if it is at the periphery of the world — which keeps this mystery, the mystery of the Son of God, the mystery of Jesus who comes to save us, is at work and comes to save the world. This is the great mission of the family: to make room for Jesus who comes, to receive Jesus in the family, in the person of the children, of the husband, of the wife, of the grandparents … Jesus is there. Welcome him there, so that he will grow spiritually in that family. May the Lord give us this grace in these last days before Christmas. Thank you.