St Peter’s Square is aglow with romance today as thousands of couples throng to celebrate St Valentine’s Day and hear words of wisdom from Pope Francis. Just like some kind of fairy fable three questions were put to the Pontiff and he shared his advice on the success of a healthy marriage with the loving crowd. Loving of each other, as all the invited couples were engaged to be married, and loving of him, the breath of fresh air into the previous staid and stuffy church atmosphere.
The cynics out there will see the Valentine stunt as an underhand technique to encourage marriage to a world of frequently lapsed Catholics and the young people who are failing to see what all the fuss is about. So live together and get married and live together again? The advice given by Pope Francis could also be seen as an effort to stop the rising tide of divorces worldwide in both Catholic and secular households. For couples to qualify for the celebration, they had to attend Catholic classes on marriage held by the Pontifical Council for the Family, which no doubt stressed the idea of regular church attendance and running a household under God.
But, for the moment, lets return instead to the fable. On St Valentine’s Day in St Peters Square under the bright winter sun, three couples put their questions to a smiling old man dressed in white. Their answers are spoken to a crowd of around 25,000 clusters of entwined couples, ready and eager to embark on the marriage of their dreams. The first couple came forward explaining that they had decided not to give in to the easy road, but to commit formally to one another. They request a recipe for a long-lasting marriage. Pope Francis answers that they should not fear the commitment of the deed. He warned them to watch out for the modern culture of rapid change that can make it seem as if nothing lasts forever. If vows are made to stay together as long as love lasts, then this could spell disaster. Love must be “built together… on the rock of true love that comes from God,” rather than those more changeable feelings.
A second couple approached to be blessed and receive wisdom from the Holy See. They told the Pope how their love had changed their lives and they asked for a spell to aid their everyday adventure together. He smiled and joked that there is no such thing as the perfect marriage, neither husband nor wife and definitely not mother-in-law. But the answer was simple and yet complex. He spoke of living together as an art form ruled by a simple mantra, “please, thanks and sorry.” Never let the sun go down without asking for forgiveness, never end a single day without making peace in times of war. Always be courteous, kind and polite to one another.
The Pope received a third couple who asked about the big day itself. What kind of celebration should they have? Here, he reined himself in. Stating that the key was not to have an elaborate wild party, although it should definitely be a celebratory day, there should be a focus on the food, dress and flowers. And of course with pure love and Jesus at the center of all things.
Thus ends the Valentine’s Day fable from the Vatican. The original St Valentine was martyred for his beliefs on marriage. The Roman Emperor Claudius II condemned him to death for marrying Cristian couples after marriage had been outlawed, lets hope Pope Francis is able to keep his head for his.
By Sara Watson