WARSAW, Poland What started as a conference promoting conservative family values attracting 700 people has grown into a major social agenda forum attracting 3,300 delegates and participants from around the globe, including many from Utah.
The fourth World Congress of Families convened in Warsaw Friday to further develop its pro-life, pro-family platform and give participating organizations updated lobbying material to use in their own countries.
Previous congresses took place in Prague, Geneva and Mexico City.
The umbrella organization of family advocacy groups also sees the steep population decline in Europe as a dangerous "demographic winter" brought on by attacks on the family that have developed through social and political agendas hostile to the family.
Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City, has been deeply involved with several of the congresses and was among Friday's speakers. He characterized the first congress, in 1997, as "very Utah-centric" with many of the speakers coming from Brigham Young University. This year's event still has five speakers from Utah, but they are among a field of more than 130 speakers and panel discussion presenters.
Poland is a particularly invested host, seeing the international forum as supportive of pro-life values that are closely aligned with its national agenda and with positions taken by the Roman Catholic Church, which counts about 90 percent of Poland's population among its members.
Poland's pro-family, pro-life policies have drawn attacks from the United Nations and international political organizations on the European continent.
"We are attacked. Our position in the international forum is being questioned," said Ewa Kowalewska. She is president of the Polish Women's Forum. "Poland is and will be the guardian of family life."
Roman Giertych, Poland's minister of education and vice prime minister, called the world congress "a great honor for Poland. It is a sign that Poland is seen as the hope for Europe and the world. Without the family there is no state, there is no government, there is nothing."
Polish legislator Marek Jurek was one of several government officials who spoke about Poland's conservative political agenda. Items he is promoting as a legislator are a prohibition against "homosexual propaganda" in schools; a requirement that students be taught that life must be protected and that abortion should be severely punished; tax regulation that favors parents with children "because they are investing in the future"; and reinforcing a legal prohibition against the circulation of pornography.
Catholic clergy have a significant presence at the conference, and one speaker devoted all of his remarks to the family-oriented teachings of the late Pope John Paul II, who is revered both as a beloved spiritual leader and as a native son.
Ellen Sauerbrey, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and immigration, was among Friday's invited speakers. She praised conference organizers "for all of their hard work in organizing this wonderful opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon the family and its vital role in society."
The congress is sponsored by the Illinois-based Howard Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes the natural family, which it defines as the life-long commitment between a man and a woman that values the rearing of children and the promotion of durable bonds between the generations.
The congress has received criticism from members of the European Parliament, who pressured the assistant secretary of State to withdraw as a speaker, claiming her presence would give an official "U.S. government stamp of approval to extremist and intolerant views held by some participants and attendees."There have been no visible signs of protest or dissent at the conference itself.