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 | By Bishop Earl Boyea

Words from the Father: Pope Francis Offers Thoughts on Fatherhood

In a general audience on January 2022, Pope Francis reflected on fatherhood. He offered a catechesis on St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, sharing these words:

To bring a child into the world is not enough to say that one is also their father or mother. 

“Fathers are not born but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person.” (Apostolic Letter Patris corde)

I think particularly of all those who are open to welcoming life by way of adoption, which is such a generous and beautiful, good attitude. Joseph shows us that this type of bond is not secondary; it is not second best. This kind of choice is among the highest forms of love, and of fatherhood and motherhood. How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them! And how many married couples want to be fathers and mothers but are unable to do so for biological reasons; or, although they already have children, they want to share their family’s affection with those who do not have it. 

We should not be afraid to choose the path of adoption, to take the “risk” of welcoming. And today, even with orphanhood, there is a certain selfishness. The other day, I spoke about the demographic winter that exists nowadays: people do not want to have children, or just one and no more. And many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one because they do not want any more, but they have two dogs, two cats … Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children. Yes, it is funny, I understand, but it is the reality. 

And this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity. And in this way civilization becomes more aged and without humanity, because it loses the richness of fatherhood and motherhood. 

And our homeland suffers as it does not have children, and, as someone said somewhat humorously, “and now that there are no children, who will pay the taxes for my pension? Who will take care of me?” He laughed, but it is the truth. 

I ask of Saint Joseph the grace to awaken consciences and to think about this: about having children. Fatherhood and motherhood are the fullness of the life of a person. Think about this. It is true, there is the spiritual fatherhood of those who consecrate themselves to God, and spiritual motherhood; but those who live in the world and get married, have to think about having children, of giving life, because they will be the ones to shut their eyes, who will think about the future. 

And also, if you cannot have children, think about adoption. It is a risk, yes: having a child is always a risk, either naturally or by adoption. But it is riskier not to have them. It is riskier to deny fatherhood or to deny motherhood, be it real or spiritual. A man or a woman who do not voluntarily develop a sense of fatherhood or motherhood are lacking something fundamental, something important. Think about this, please.

I hope that the institutions will always be prepared to help with adoptions, by seriously monitoring but also simplifying the necessary procedures so that the dream of so many children who need a family, and of so many couples who wish to give themselves in love, can come true. 

Some time ago I heard the testimony of a person, a doctor — important in his profession — who did not have children, and along with his wife, he decided to adopt one. And when the time came, they were offered a child, and they were told, “But we do not know how this child’s health will progress. Perhaps he may have an illness”. And he said — he had seen him — he said, “If you had asked me about this before coming, perhaps I would have said no. But I have seen him: I will take him with me”. This is the longing to be an adoptive father, to be an adoptive mother too. Do not be afraid of this.

I pray that no one may feel deprived of the bond of paternal love. And may those who are afflicted with orphanhood, go forward without this very unpleasant feeling. May Saint Joseph protect, and give his help to orphans; and may he intercede for couples who wish to have a child. Let us pray for this together:

Saint Joseph,
you who loved Jesus with fatherly love,
be close to the many children who have no family
and who long for a dad and mom.
Support the couples who are unable to have children,
help them to discover, through this suffering, a greater plan.
Make sure that no one lacks a home, a bond,
a person to take care of him or her;
and heal the selfishness of those who close themselves off from life,
that they may open their hearts to love.