The intent was for the local church to travel in pilgrimage to each local parish for five nights. “The Gospel of the Family: Joy of the World” was the theme that Pope Francis selected for this year’s conference and the theme echoed at each of the local parishes.
Presenters shared testimonies about their lives and what it meant to them to be a member of a family as a married couple or a single or divorced parent or a member of the church family and the family of God.
In the words of Pope Francis, “Dear Families, do you pray together from time to time as a family? We need simplicity to pray as a family. Praying the Our Father together, around the table is not something extraordinary: it is easy.”
The presenters at the various parishes confirmed the manifestation of love and hope that Pope Francis expressed for families. At St. Mel’s in Norco, the organizers combined music and a potluck dinner with the reflections that were shared. Scott Wynn shared his struggle as a divorced single parent and his annulment and his journey that brought him fully into his faith as an active member of his parish serving in ministry.
Anthony Frohwein, also a parishioner at St. Mel’s, commented, “Time is the only thing that we have. How do we spend that time? Time is what binds us together with the people we love.”
He then had those gathered reflect on this question, “How many times do you tell your spouse or your children later; I don’t have time for that right now?” he continued, “Everything boils back to time. The glue that binds us together is time.” Then he offered this simple prayer, “Allow us to be free Lord, and know the value of our time.”
Margarita Suarez and her husband and children attended the celebration of marriage and family and shared her thoughts about the week-long event saying, “I think that it is important for families to attend an event like this. My daughter will be going to college and it is important to have her on the right path.”
Dan and Lydia Kray were the organizing couple for the evening at St. Mel’s. They also shared their journey as a couple and as individuals, pointing out the highs and lows that everyone faces in a lifetime, which included jobs, money issues and deaths of family members. Dan and Lydia were involved in youth ministry for years but as their children got older they prayed that the Lord would lead them into another ministry. The couple’s prayers were answered and they became involved as Marriage Mentors at their parish. This ministry provides a way for spouses to meet and share their struggles while growing in their Catholic faith as a couple.
Father Athanasius Ezealla, Parochial Vicar at St. Mel’s, shared his thoughts on family life at the end of the evening, saying, “At least once a week pull your family together and talk to them and pray together and ask God to take control of your family.”
At St. Matthew’s parish in Corona Father Hien Pham, S.V.D., Parochial Vicar, encouraged those gathered to look to the Holy Family as an example for their lives. Six presenters shared their thoughts on what being a member of a Catholic family meant to them. Some of the speakers brought up the many problems that are present in society today and issues that cause families to grow apart. Many of the speakers shared that they felt that the sanctity of marriage was being attacked by the devil.
Angeliza Palma shared, “Whatever you suffer because of your spouse you are doing it for the love of God. Your spouse is your saving grace to heaven. You need to accept the imperfections of your spouse.”
Palma shared that she felt that there would always be crosses in life and disappointments, but much of the disappointments in life are a result of the expectations that people place on others or situations.
Sarah Ibbetson shared that she and her husband Ken had been married for 15 years and had four children. She shared that her youngest daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida when she was an infant. There were surgeries and worries and concerns about the health of her child. She shared how she and her husband were able to have their faith and their church family’s support through the many surgeries and difficult times. She shared a photo of her daughter who now is a healthy and happy twelve-year-old.
“With God’s help we can solve the marriage crisis of our time,” Ibbetson said.
In concluding his message on “What Makes a Family Holy,” Pope Francis wrote, “God alone knows how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centeredness prevails and joy fades. But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole.”
Marge Bitetti is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Matthew, Corona.