VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis told couples to defend God's design for the family as the union of a man and woman for the procreation of children, and urged them to be merciful to those whose marriages have failed.
Today "the family - as God wants it, composed of a man and a woman for the good of the spouses and also the generation and education of children - is deformed by powerful contrary projects supported by ideological colonization," the Pope said Sept. 10.
A family which is filled with the presence of God, he said, "speaks for itself of God's love for all men."
The Pope asked couples to commit to activities aimed at welcoming, forming and accompanying young couples both before and after marriage.
Francis' address was directed to members of the Equipes Notre Dame (Teams of Our Lady, END), who are present in Rome for an international meeting titled: "Here I am Lord, send me."
Founded in France in 1938, END is a lay movement which focuses on married spirituality, using its own methods to help couples live the sacrament of marriage fully amid the various challenges married couples face.
In his speech, the Pope said that Christian couples and families are "in the best position" to announce Jesus to other families, and to support, strengthen and encourage them.
The unique joy that the Lord enables families and couples to experience in the intimacy of domestic life, both in moments of joy and suffering, "must be witnessed to, announced and communicated externally, so that others, in turn, take the same path," he said.
The Pope encouraged couples to live the movement's spirituality and commitments in a deep way, saying these allow couples to live their married life confidently, following the path of the Gospel.
Prayer within couples and families is especially important, he said, explaining that it is "a beautiful and necessary tradition that has always supported the faith and hope of Christians, and unfortunately abandoned in many regions of the world."
Monthly dialogue between spouses is also needed, Francis continued, noting that the "need to sit down" often goes against the current of a busy, individualistic world.
He also encouraged the couples to draw close to the increasing number of wounded families who suffer due to either a lack of work, concern for a child, the distance or an absence of a family member or a violent environment.
"We must have the courage to enter into contact with these families," he said, adding that it must be done "in a discreet but generous way, materially, humanly or spiritually, in those circumstances where they are vulnerable."
Pope Francis closed by encouraging couples to instruments of Christ's mercy toward those whose marriages have failed, and stressed that married fidelity is a gift from God.
Mercy has been shown to "every one of us," Francis said. He added that couples who are united and happy can better understand the pain and the suffering caused by betrayal, abandonment and a lack of love.
"It is necessary, therefore, that you bring your witness and your experience to help Christian communities to discern the real situations in which these people find themselves, to welcome them with their wounds, and to help them to journey in faith and in truth," he said.
"Nor must you forget the unspeakable suffering of the children who experience these painful family situations: you can give a lot to them."
Pope Francis asked those present to pray for the upcoming Synod on the Family, and for all their reflections on the "vital cell of our societies" within the difficult current cultural context.