Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 18 Mar in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.
After having reviewed the different figures of family life – mother, father, children, siblings, and grandparents – I would like to end this first group of catecheses on the family to speak about children. I will do so in two sessions: today I shall reflect on the great gift that children are for humanity. But this is true; thank you for applauding. They are the great gift for humanity, but they are also greatly excluded. And next week I shall reflect on some wounds that, unfortunately, harm children. There comes to mind the many children I met during my last trip to Asia: full of life, of enthusiasm and, on the other hand, I see that many of them live in the world in conditions that are undignified. In fact, a society can be judged by the way its children are treated. Not only morally, but also sociologically: if it is a free society or a society slave of international interests.
The first thing that children remind us of is that all of us, in the first years of life, were totally dependent on the care and benevolence of others. And the Son of God did not spare himself this stage. It is the mystery we contemplate every year at Christmas. The Manger is the icon that communicates this reality to us in the simplest and most direct way. But it’s curious. God has no difficulty in making himself understood by children, and children don’t have problems in understanding God. It’s no accident that in the Gospel there are very beautiful and intense words of Jesus on the “little ones.” This term “little” indicates all persons that depend on the help of others, and, in particular, children. For instance, Jesus says: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25). And again: “See that you not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Therefore, children in themselves are richness for humanity and for the Church, because they recall to us constantly the necessary condition to enter in the Kingdom of God: not to consider ourselves self-sufficient, but in need of help, of love and of forgiveness. And we are all in need of help, of love and of forgiveness. Everyone!
Children remind us of another good thing: they remind us that we are always children: even if one becomes an adult or elderly, even if one becomes a parent, if one has a position of responsibility, underneath all this remains the identity of a child. We are all children! And this refers us to the fact that we did not give life to ourselves but that we received it. The great gift of life, the first gift we received: life! Sometimes we live forgetting this, as if we were the masters of our existence; instead, we are radically dependent. In reality, it is a reason for great joy to know that in every age of life , in every situation, in every social condition, we are and remain children. This is the principal message that children give us, with their very presence. Their presence alone reminds us that each and all of us are children.
But there are so many gifts, so many riches that children bring to humanity. I shall recall only a few. They bring their way of seeing reality, with a trusting and pure look. A child has spontaneous trust in its father and in its mother: and it has spontaneous trust in God, in Jesus and in Our Lady. At the same time, its interior look is pure, it is not yet polluted by malice, by duplicity, by the “incrustations” of life that harden the heart.
We know that children also have original sin, that they have their selfishness, but they have a purity, an interior simplicity. But children are not diplomatic! They say what they feel. They say what they see directly! And so often they put their parents in difficulty. They say, “But I don’t like this because it’s ugly, in front of other persons. But children say what they see. They are not two-faced, they have not yet learnt that science of duplicity that we, adults, have learnt.
Moreover, in their interior simplicity they bear in themselves the capacity of receiving and giving tenderness. Tenderness means to have a heart “of flesh” and not “of stone,” as the Bible says (Cf. Ezekiel 36:26). Tenderness is also poetry: it is “to feel” things and events, not to treat them as mere objects, just to be used, because they are useful … Children have the capacity to smile and to cry: some smile when I lift them to kiss them. Others see me in white, they think I’m the doctor, and that I am going to vaccinate them, and they cry – but spontaneously. Children are like this, they smile and cry: two things that in us adults are often “blocked,” we are no longer capable … and so often our smile becomes a cardboard smile, something without life, a smile that’s not vivacious – also an artificial smile, of a clown. Children smile spontaneously and cry spontaneously … it always depends on the heart and our heart is blocked and often loses this capacity to smile and cry …
And, therefore, children can teach us again to smile and cry. However, we must often ask ourselves: do I smile spontaneously with freshness, with love or is my smile artificial? Do I still cry or have I lost the capacity to cry? But these are two very human questions that children teach us.
For all these reasons Jesus invites his disciples “to become like children,” because “He who is as they are belongs to the Kingdom of God” (Cf. Matthew 18:3; Mark 10:14).
Dear brothers and sisters, children bring life, joy, hope, also trouble, but life is like this. They certainly also bring worries and sometimes problems. However, it’s better to have a society with these worries and problems than a sad and grey society because it has remained without children! And when we see that the level of births hardly reaches 1%, we can say that this society is grey because it has remained without children.