In the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, I wrote that man is the way of the Church. With these words I wanted first of all

  • to evoke the many paths along which man walks, and at the same time
  • to emphasise how deeply the Church desires to stand at his side as he follows the paths of his earthly life.

The Church shares in the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of people’s daily pilgrimage, firmly convinced that it was Christ himself who set her on all these paths. Christ entrusted man to the Church; He entrusted man to her as the ‘way’ of her mission and her ministry.

Among these many paths, the family is the first and the most important. It is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw.

Indeed, a person normally comes into the world within a family, and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual. When he has no family, the person coming into the world develops an anguished sense of pain and loss, one which will subsequently burden his whole life.

The Church draws near with loving concern to all who experience situations such as these, for she knows well the fundamental role which the family is called upon to play.

Furthermore, she knows that a person goes forth from the family in order to realize in a new family unit his particular vocation in life. Even if someone chooses to remain single, the family continues to be, as it were, his existential horizon, that fundamental community in which the whole network of social relations is grounded, from the closest and most immediate to the most distant.

Do we not often speak of the ‘human family’ when referring to all the people living in the world?

The family has its origin in that same love with which the Creator embraces the created world, as was already expressed ‘in the beginning’, in the Book of Genesis (1:1).

In the Gospel Jesus offers a supreme confirmation: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (Jn 3:16). The only-begotten Son, of one substance with the Father, ‘God from God and Light from Light’, entered into human history through the family: ‘For by His incarnation the Son of God united Himself in a certain way with every man. He laboured with human hands… and loved with a human heart. Born of Mary the Virgin, He truly became one of us and, except for sin, was like us in every respect’.

If in fact Christ ‘fully discloses man to himself’, He does so beginning with the family in which He chose to be born and to grow up.

We know that the Redeemer spent most of His life in the obscurity of Nazareth, ‘obedient’ (Lk 2:51) as the ‘Son of Man’ to Mary His Mother, and to Joseph the carpenter. Is this filial ‘obedience’ of Christ not already the first expression of that obedience to the Father ‘unto death’ (Phil 2:8), whereby He redeemed the world?

The divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word thus has an intimate connection with the human family. Not only with one family, that of Nazareth, but in some way with every family, analogously to what the Second Vatican Council says about the Son of God, who in the Incarnation ‘united Himself in some sense with every man’.

Following Christ who ‘came’ into the world ‘to serve’ (Mt 20:28), the Church considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense both man and the family constitute ‘the way of the Church.’

Saint Pope John Paul II


Adapted and excerpted from St Pope John Paul II letter to Families, Gratissimam Sane. Paragraphs 1 and 2.

This article can be found in Mirror 0615.