by Elise Harris
Vatican City, Oct 1, 2016 / 07:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech in Georgia, Pope Francis said the world today is at war with marriage, and urged couples to fight against modern threats to the sacrament such as gender theory.
Speaking to Irina, a Georgian wife and mother who gave her testimony in front of Pope Francis and hundreds of priests, seminarians and religious Oct. 1, the Pope said “you mentioned a great enemy of marriage today: gender theory.”
“Today the whole world is at war trying to destroy marriage,” he said, noting that this war isn’t being fought with arms “but with ideas.”
There are “certain ideologies that destroy marriage,” he said. “So we need to defend ourselves from ideological colonization.”
Pope Francis spoke to priests, seminarians, religious and pastoral workers inside Tbilisi’s Church of the Assumption after celebrating Mass for the country’s tiny Catholic population on the second of his three-day visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The Pope’s Sept. 30-Oct. 2 visit to the two countries, expected to largely focus on the topics of peace and interreligious dialogue, is seen as a conclusion of his Caucasus tour, following his visit to Armenia in June.
In her testimony, Irina told Francis about the challenges of family life in Georgia, such as finding good Christian education, the fear of becoming parents in situations of poverty and the fact that separation is often seen as a way of resolving family difficulties.
Separations, she said, are much easier in the Orthodox Church, and this has an impact on Catholic families. She also pointed to the growing pressures to accept homosexuality and gender ideology, as well as the “marginalization” of the Christian vision of the family.
Turning to the Pope’s post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Irina said she is happy that the Pope decided to use the word “joy” when referring to the concept of family, and voiced her desire to “rediscover marriage as a sacrament for evangelization, as a force of witness for the Church.”
In addition to her testimony, Pope Francis also heard the testimony of three others, including an Armenian priest serving the Armenian Catholic community in Georgia, a Georgian seminarian and a young man representing the youth.
Rather than giving a prepped speech for the occasion, Francis opted to go without a text, studiously taking notes while each of the four spoke. He then delivered lengthy, off-the-cuff remarks
In his off-the-cuff speech, the Pope repeated much of what he has said before, telling Irina that the recipe for a happy marriage can be found in three words: “May I,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
“Matrimony is the most beautiful thing God created,” he said, explaining that since man and woman have been created in God’s image, “it is when the two become one that his image is reflected.”
“I understood the line when you spoke about the difficulties that come in the family, the temptations, so we resolve things on the road of divorce,” he said, explaining that when a divorce happens, “two people pay.”
“God pays, because God is the one who made them one, and when they divorce, they dirty what God has made,” he said, adding that the children also pay the price of the separation.
“You don’t know, you don’t know how much children suffer when they see parents fight and separate,” the Pope said, explaining that while certain “complex situations” exist, “you must do everything to save a marriage.”
If the devil enters and tempts the couple, trying to distract the husband by drawing him to a woman who seems more attractive or to distract the wife with a man who might seem better than her husband, “ask for help immediately,” Francis said. “Ask for help right away when these temptations come.”
Pope Francis also spoke of the important role that mothers and grandmothers play in passing on the faith and keeping it “solid.”
Responding to the seminarian, named Kote, the Pope said that a vocation always begins at home, typically with “the mother or grandmother.”
He stressed the importance of remembering the faith that has been passed onto us, but also the moment of the Lord’s call, when he said “come, come.”
This memory is especially needed in the moments of darkness that can arise in the life of a priest or religious, whether it be due to difficulties in community life, with the diocese or whether it seems like things just aren’t moving forward, he said.
When this happens, it’s important not to look backwards, he said, explaining that “if you want to look back, remember that moment. As in this way the faith remains solid, the vocation remains solid.”
Francis also pointed to the essential role Mary and the Church play as a mother, saying that as a mother, the Church remains open and doesn’t “close in on itself.”
“There are two women that Jesus wanted for all of us: his mother and his bride. Both of them are similar. The Mother of Jesus he left as our mother. The Church is the spouse of Jesus, and she is also our mother,” he said.
With Mary and the Church we have a sure way of going forward, Francis continued, adding that “here we again find the woman. It seems like the Lord has a preference, and his preference is to bring the faith forward through women.”
On a final point, the Pope spoke about ecumenism, stressing the need for Catholics to defend themselves against worldliness, and to “never fight” with the Orthodox, who are the religious majority in the country.
“Let’s leave that to theologians,” he said, calling proselytism “a great sin against ecumenism. We are never to proselytize the Orthodox.
Instead, ecumenism is achieved through friendship, accompaniment, mutual prayer and common works of charity when possible.
Pope Francis closed his remarks by praying that God would “make us men and women of the Church, solid in the faith that we have received from our mother and grandmother, solid in the faith which is sure under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God,” and leading attendees in praying the Hail Mary.
The encounter concluded with the recitation of the Our Father in Georgian and the Pope’s blessing. From the parish, the Pope went on to visit a health and rehabilitation center run by the Order of St. Camillus.