Pope's statement on families: A shift in Catholic thinking?

Speaking off-script in a homily at the World Meeting of Families on Saturday, Pope Francis discussed the struggles that families face, but said that each family is a 'factory of hope.' 

Matt Rourke/AP
Pope Francis waves to the crowd during a parade Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. The pontiff attended a music-and-prayer festival there Saturday night to close out the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored conference of more than 18,000 people from around the world.

Speaking before a crowd of 18,000 at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on Saturday, Pope Francis emphasized resiliency in the face of familial conflict and the importance of families to the Catholic church. 

The pontiff smiled and clapped to the beat of Aretha Franklin’s rendition of "Amazing Grace" before taking to the stage himself to deliver his homily. He spoke in Spanish, pausing at each line to allow an English translation, and frequently departed from his prepared remarks.

"The family is beautiful, but there's effort involved and there are problems," the pope said.

Calling families "a factory of hope," Francis drew laughs from the crowd as he acknowledged his message might be greeted with skepticism by some.

"Father, you speak like that because you're not married," he said. "Families have difficulties. In families we quarrel. Sometimes, plates can fly. Children cause headaches. I won't speak of mother-in-laws.

"But," the pope added, "in families, there is always light."

He offered advice to families who fight from time to time: "Never let the day end without making peace."

Families from Australia, Ukraine, Jordan, Nigeria, the United States and Argentina got onstage and spoke of their own hopes and values as Catholic families, and of the importance of sticking together.

A father from Jordan talked about facing religious persecution and the push to help refugees. A grandfather from Argentina talked about the challenges of being an immigrant. A mother from Nigeria spoke of the difficulty her family faced after her first daughter died, ABC News reported.

Upon hearing the families' stories, Francis smiled and thanked them, saying they were "a real witness that it is worth having a family." 

Calling the homily "surprising", Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies told the Guardian she thought the emphasis on the virtue of love within families and the future would disappoint devout Catholics, who may have been looking to hear a stance on abortion, "something that Catholic pro-lifers have been desperate to hear in a strong, decisive message from Francis all week.

"This capstone moment on the family will probably make the more conservative Catholics disappointed in Pope Francis’s visit overall, while giving disaffected Catholics a measure of hope after years of stridently doctrinal, ineffective messages on family life.”

Earlier this month, Pope Francis gave temporary leeway to women in the church who have had abortions – considered a grave sin by the Catholic church – by granting absolution if they express remorse and seek forgiveness from their priest.

“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented,” the pontiff wrote in a letter that was released by the Vatican in early September.

The temporary order is part of the church’s holy year of mercy, which begins on December 8 and runs until 20 November 2016.

The pope closed the festival by making another joke.

"I'll see you all at mass tomorrow," he said. "What time is that again?"

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