From Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest shopping mall, Francis addressed a crowd of 600 thousand faithful, ahead of the upcoming Synod on the family and the Jubilee: “The family is the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly. The family constitutes the best “social capital” which “needs to be helped and strengthened”
Francis called on people to pray even harder in view of the upcoming Synod because “Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening and turn it … into a miracle. And the family needs this miracle.” At Guayaquil’s Parque Samanes, Ecuador’s largest shopping mall overlooking the Pacific, the Pope spoke about the family and families, in view of the October Synod and the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which starts in December. He did so as he celebrated mass in the presence of hunderds of thousands of people who defied the stifling heat and humidity to be there and who had been waiting at the Park since 2 in the morning.
Francis left the cold temperatures of Quito which is 2800 metres above sea level and after a few hours descended to sea level, to an area known as Ecuador’s Miami. After the brief flight, the Pope took a silver-coloured Fiat Idea to go to the new sanctuary of Divine Mercy, where he was welcomed by a group of enthusiastic Argentinians and girls in traditional dress who threw flower petals. At the sanctuary, Francis lay a bunch of white roses at the foot of the Virgin Mary, which he brought with him from Quito. He prayed the Ave Maria with those present and before giving his blessing, he said: “I ask for mercy for each and every one of you… I do not ask you to give any money – he joked – I only ask you to pray for me! Will you do that?”
Straight after this, Francis made his way to the venue where he was to celebrate mass. More than half a million faithful – Ecuadorians and other Latin Americans – gathered in Latin America’s third biggest park which stretches across 379 hectares and forms part of a state project called “Guayaquil ecologica”. Commenting on the Gospel passage on the wedding feast of Cana, which recounts the first miracle Jesus performed at Mary’s express wish – the transformation of water into wine – Francis recalled that Jesus “pour[s] out the best wines for those who, for whatever reason, feel that all their jars have been broken”. With these words, Francis threw out a metaphorical raft to all those facing tough family situations.
Francis’ message on the family was powerful and will resonate beyond Ecuador and South America. Reflecting on the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, Pope Francis recalled that “in the family, miracles are performed with what little we have, with what we are, with what is at hand… many times, it is not ideal, it is not what we dreamt of, nor what “should have been”. The new wine of the wedding feast of Cana came from the water jars, the jars used for ablutions, we might even say from the place where everyone had left their sins.” “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”, Francis said quoting St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In our own families and in the greater family to which we all belong, nothing is thrown away, nothing is useless.
Francis asked faithful to pray that the upcoming Synod will consider concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families in our time”. “God,” who can transform even the things that scandalise or scare us into miracles, “always seeks out the peripheries, those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement”.
The Pope’s entire homily revolved around the figure of Mary and her request to Jesus to turn the water into wine. Mary, the Pope explained, “is not closed in on herself, worried only about her little world. Her love makes her “outgoing” towards others.
“How many of our adolescents and young people sense that these are no longer found in their homes?” Francis went on to say. “How many women, sad and lonely, wonder when love left, when it slipped away from their lives? How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love? This lack of “wine” can also be due to unemployment, illness and difficult situations which our families may experience. Mary is not a “demanding” mother, a mother-in-law who revels in our lack of experience, our mistakes and the things we forget to do. Mary is a Mother! She is there, attentive and concerned.”
Mary, Francis explained, “approaches Jesus with confidence”, she “prays. She does not go to the steward, she immediately tells her Son of the newlyweds’ problem.” “Praying always lifts us out of our worries and concerns. It makes us rise above everything that hurts, upsets or disappoints us, and it puts us in the place of others, in their shoes.” But the mother of Jesus does not stop at this, she also acts: “Service is the sign of true love,” Francis said. “We learn this especially in the family, where we become servants out of love for one another.”
“The family,” the Pope added in a series of vivid images, “is the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly. The family constitutes the best “social capital”. It cannot be replaced by other institutions. It needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides. Those services are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine “social debt” with respect to the institution of the family, which contributes so greatly to the common good.”
“The family is also a small Church, which, along with life, also mediates God’s tenderness and mercy. In the family, we imbibe faith with our mother’s milk. When we experience the love of our parents, we feel the closeness of God’s love.” “The best wine is yet to come for those who today feel hopelessly lost. Whisper it to yourselves until you are convinced of it: the best wine is yet to come. Whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless,” Francis concluded. “In a continent where there are a huge number of families formed by unmarried couples, the Pope advocates hope for the future of the family: “the best wine s yet to come and it will come even if all variables and statistics point to the opposite.”