The best-known Charter of Rights today, no doubt, is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 Since then many other charters or declarations have been developed; rights of children, of women, of disabled people, of migrants and many more.  From my own perspective we seldom, if ever, hear of family rights as such.  So I’m pleased that the Church produced a Charter of Rights of the Family in 1983 as part of the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family which is now the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.  

After the devastation and loss of life in the two World Wars early in the 20th century there was a concerted effort to aim for peace and a new dispensation.  The declaration of rights was one attempt, while a  strong culture of rights grew everywhere, a positive consequence.  The rights focus still continues with people nowadays, everywhere, lobbying, marching, protesting and demanding their rights;  their own rights, possibly irrespective of rights of others.   Of course the issue of rights is right, is just and fair, but possibly the approach, when including demands and threats, can be counterproductive and violence has become a common element.  

WWJD?  What would Jesus have done then and what would he do today?   I like to think that Pope Francis epitomizes the type of response Jesus would give.  Not everyone agrees with his approach and the same can be said of other popes and their responses as the Church has been involved in this developmental process in the last 70 years too. Pope St John XXIII in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris  addressed his current issue of nuclear war and other Popes, in encyclicals and synods  have addressed current issues of concern including family matters, for the Catholic faithful and, increasingly, for a wider audience.

Today’s concerns, addressed specifically by Pope Francis, have been the environment/climate change with LAUDATO SI, the family with AMORIS LAETITIA  and all humankind with FRATELLI TUTTI.    But his early encyclical, EVANGELII GAUDIUM,  likely already set the tone and direction he wanted his pontificate to take. THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL, THE JOY OF LOVE and now FRATERNITY AND SOCIAL FRIENDSHIP are not aggressive in character and yet call for the same justice and rights, through friendship, compassionate listening, tenderness, often making references to God’s love and to forgiveness.

South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day on 21/22nd March with the rather general theme “The year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation-building.”  Many of us will come to this with our own agendas, women, gender-based violence, education, jobs, poverty, equality and racism appears to be featuring prominently.  My focus is on what I still perceive as a neglected area, family rights, with its family focus at the heart.  All the above areas are relevant, exist and happen in the context of families of all the various kinds making up our society.   

This week also includes some important Church events.  The feastday of St Joseph on 19th March, beloved husband of Mary, foster-father of Jesus, patron of the Church and of a happy death, among a long list of titles. The feast is particularly important as Pope Francis initiated a Year of St Joseph from 8 December 2020 to 8 December 2021.  His document PATRIS CORDE, “with a Father’s heart: that is how Joseph loved Jesus”  says much about its tone and speaks of tenderness, creative courage and how he dealt with his rights and responsibilities too even as a father in the shadows!.  It is worth a read so go to   Other resources, novena, prayers and opportunities for indulgences are advertised.

Also on the 19th March a virtual event entitled, “Our Daily Love”, (a quotation from the document AMORIS LAETITIA) will be presented in Rome.  It will be celebratory and informational, celebrating the 5th anniversary of the document published after the 2014 and 2015 Family Synods which discerned around the complex issues and challenges and the state of the family in our time.   A Vatican statement just received on the question of  blessing same-sex unions highlights this complexity of issues facing families.    

 Pope Francis will be present and will introduce the AMORIS LAETITIA FAMILY YEAR until the next, delayed and now replanned, World Meeting of Families in June 2022.  So clearly FAMILY MATTERS!  And needs to be commemorated, celebrated and supported widely.

Running through all these events, ironically, one can see the needs from the SA Human Rights theme for unity and not just our own nation-building.  What is needed is building a universal fraternity, a brotherhood, sisterhood, familyhood of the entire human community, with all their various religious affiliations, but also  without forgetting the wider world of creation.  Pope Francis writes “In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, where he or she was born or lives. This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy inspired me to devote this new encyclical to fraternity and social friendship.  He felt himself brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.  FT 1 and 2.   May our united struggle for family rights give ultimate witness to Jesus and his Gospel values.       FAMILY WEEKLY 17 MARCH 2021