Pope urges families to unplug from technology, find quality time for each other and God

DUBLIN – Speaking to thousands of families from over 100 countries, Pope Francis on Saturday urged them to cut down the time they spend with technology, instead spending more quality time with one another and with God.

“It’s important that [new] media never become a threat to the real web of flesh and blood relationships by imprisoning us in a virtual reality, and isolating us from the very relationships that challenge us to grow to our full potential in communion with others,” he said.

Diverting from his prepared remarks, Francis also advised families, as he’s done before, to make sure never to go to bed without resolving an argument, because there’s always the danger of a “cold war” the following day.

Francis was addressing some 75,000 people who had gathered at Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium where a festival of families took place, one of two events closing the World Meeting of Families this week.

Before the pope’s address, there were musical acts, including Italian singer Andrea Bocelli singing the Ave Maria and a group of Irish dancers.

Francis’s words came as a response to questions posed to him by different families, and he answered them both by reading from his prepared remarks and improvising, as he usually does in these more informal settings, when he’s often seen holding a pen to add to the text.

The question about technology was posed to the pontiff by a family from India.

Pope Francis is cheered by the crowd as he attends the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. Pope Francis is on a two-day visit to Ireland. (Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia.)

A third personal account came from the Mekhael family, who are originally from Karemlash in northern Iraq, but who currently live in Australia. Enass Mekhael, the mother of the family, is the sister of Father Ragheed Ganni, martyred along with four companions after celebrating Mass. The Vatican recently opened a process to declare him a saint.

“We would like to share with you our story of finding strength in our faith and family when faced with war and persecution,” Enass said. She was accompanied by her husband, their son, and her niece, and together, they spoke about growing up in Iraq, and how a strong family life kept their faith alive.

Closing the group’s remarks, Enass thanked the pope for listening to the stories of the families from Iraq, “where the family of families, the Church, is helping families to return to their homes and look to the future with hope.”

Though she didn’t mention any projects specifically, she’s referring to efforts such as the Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Committee in Iraq, a coalition combining the efforts of the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church and a series of Catholic organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus.

Responding to the Iraqi family, Francis said that they spoke about love and faith being a “source of strength and peace even amid the violence and destruction caused by war and persecution.”

“Their story reminds us of the tragic situations endured daily by so many families forced to flee their homes in search of security and peace,” he said. “But they also show us how, starting from the family, and thanks to the solidarity shown by so many other families, lives can be rebuilt and hope born anew.”

In every society, the pontiff continued, by teaching the virtues of love, acceptance and forgiveness, families generate peace, because these virtues are the best antidote to “the hatred, prejudice and vengeance that can poison the life of individuals and communities.”

Another testimony was given by a family from Burkina Faso, divided after one of the sons led the family into bankruptcy and fled, only to come back a year later and find forgiveness among those whom he had left behind.

“Small and simple acts of forgiveness, renewed each day, are the foundation upon which a solid Christian family life is built. They force us to overcome our pride, aloofness and embarrassment, and to make peace,” Francis said.

Talking about families in general, he said that he likes to speak about “saints ‘next door.’”

“The vocation to love and to holiness is not something reserved for a privileged few… It’s silently present in the heart of all those families that offer love, forgiveness and mercy when they see the need, and do so quietly, without great fanfare,” he said.

“Fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, children and grandchildren: all of us are called to find, in the family, our fulfillment in love,” Francis said. “God’s grace helps us daily to live as one in mind and heart. Even daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law! No one said this would be easy!”

Francis is in Ireland for a 32-hour visit closing the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families. Before going to Croke Park, the pontiff had a packed day, that included an address to civil authorities, an encounter with young couples at the local pro-cathedral, and a 90-minute meeting with Irish survivors of clerical, religious and institutional abuse.

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