Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia’s visit to Philadelphia May 13-14 as part of the preparation for the September 2015 World Meeting of Families was in his view a success.
“Philadelphia is magnifico,” said the archbishop in a telephone interview. After a quick stop in the Wilmington area, he was en route by automobile to New York City.
Of his final day in Philadelphia, he said, “it was interesting spending the morning at the seminary and the schools and meeting with the government officials. We started to organize the World Meeting of Families. I think the event will be very important to the United States and the world.”
Actually Archbishop Paglia is very familiar with Philadelphia, tracing back to his student days at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in the 1960s. That was the time of Vatican II, and as a young seminarian he assisted Philadelphia’s Archbishop John Krol with translations of some of the documents. The two remained friends in the years that followed.
The reason Archbishop Paglia was heading to New York was because the upcoming World Meeting of Families was not his sole purpose for coming to America.
May 15 marked the United Nations’ 19th annual observance of the International Day of the Family, and in his official capacity as the president of the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, the archbishop was representing the Vatican at the celebration.
(Read the full text of his speech at the U.N. here.)
“The family is the pillar of humankind and of society,” he said. “The family is at the heart of human development.”
The paradox as Archbishop Paglia sees it is that although most people dream of having a family and it is at the top of their desires, “We see a lot of wounded families, and when the family is wounded society is also wounded,” he said.
This vision for the role that family plays in society is not simply a Christian idea. It traces back to ancient cultures, the archbishop explained, quoting from the first century B.C. orator/philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, who said the family is “the birth of the City and the school of the Republic.”
The family “is the source of development from an economic point of view, a cultural point of view and a religious point of view,” Archbishop Paglia said. “If you are alone and think only of yourself, you risk nothing and you create nothing. With a family you weave a larger net in society.”
A challenge for Archbishop Paglia and the Vatican is that not everyone connected with the U.N. is in agreement with the Holy See on some issues that the church considers fundamental.
This was the case at a Geneva session of the United Nations Committee against Torture at the beginning of May, when one participant accused the church of “psychological torture” of women because of its opposition to abortion.
“If you go back in your life, at one time you were an embryo in the womb of a woman,” Archbishop Paglia said. “We have to include, we must welcome, not exclude.”
He decried the abortion culture that has gone to such lengths as to abort female babies because male babies are considered more desirable, a practice which, particularly in China, means millions more boys are born every year than girls.
By contrast Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had a cordial meeting at the Vatican on May 9, with agreement on many points.
“It is important to build a new world, more human, more compassionate, not cruel,” Archbishop Paglia said. “In this way the pope understands the importance of the Catholic Church cooperating with others.”