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 Mario and Paola Martinez, co-directors of the new Diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life had the honor of taking part in a presentation of the National V Encuentro to Church leaders in Rome last month. Following is their reflection of the trip and their meeting with Pope Francis.

 Four years ago we traveled to Philadelphia filled with joy and anticipation with our young children to The World Meeting of Families.

 The day before the start of the World Meeting of Families, we joined 143 other Hispanic Catholic leaders who work in family ministry in the United States and Latin America to reflect on the opportunities and challenges that Hispanic families face in our continent.

 This gathering convened by the U.S. Conference of Bishops was known as the First Encounter of Hispanic and Latin American Families.

 The dialogue that took place at this historic gathering served to prepare us for the forthcoming National V Encuentro process, for which our Bishop Gerald Barnes was one of the lead agents.

 At this gathering, we were also blessed to serve as La Familia Custodia de La Cruz de los Encuentros (The Custodial Family of The Cross of the Encounters). This cross was blessed by Pope Francis during his trip to Philadelphia and traveled to dioceses throughout the United States during the entire V Encuentro process, and was present at the National Encuentro gathering in Grapevine, Texas in September of 2018.

 Our children still remember this most special day, where we processed with the Encuentros Cross through the streets of Philadelphia with our beloved bishops and other Hispanic Catholic leaders from across the country. 

 Living the V Encuentro process at all levels (parish, diocesan, regional and national) has been a gift to our marriage, family life, and ministry.

 It has taught us how to be better listeners, how to better accompany one another and the families of our Diocese during the challenging times of their journey.

 The process has also served to open the doors for new ministries to emerge, that address the needs of our people.

 One of the areas which was highlighted across the country was the need to offer formation for all ages on the vocations of marriage and family life.

 This finding encouraged the establishment of the Office of Marriage and Family Life here in our Diocese this year. 

 Shortly after the establishment of the office, we received an unexpected phone call from Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Assistant Director of Hispanic Affairs for the USCCB and National Coordinator for the V Encuentro, that would impact our lives in a very profound way.

 We were invited, as a couple, to be a part of a delegation that would participate in a V Encuentro Pilgrimage to the Holy See Sept. 11-19, to deliver the proceedings and conclusions of the V Encuentro to different leaders and staff of various Vatican offices, including the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and to The Holy Father, Pope Francis.

 One experience during our pilgrimage that truly impacted us was meeting with Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, a ministry that is very close to our hearts.

 Among other areas, his office is responsible for the pastoral care of the family, and the organization of the World Meeting of Families which takes place every three years (the next one will be in Rome in June 2021).

 We were able to share with him about the work we are doing with many collaborators here in our Diocese through the Office, and he was very pleased and encouraged by what we shared. Meeting him was indeed a gift. 

 The culminating event of our entire pilgrimage was undoubtedly our encounter with Pope Francis.

 That Wednesday morning, September the 18th, we attended the Pope’s audience, where we not only received his Apostolic blessing, but it was extended to our families and community back home as well.

 Immediately following the audience, we were escorted to the front steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica, where we huddled together and waited for The Holy Father to make his way to our group.

 Words cannot express the excitement we felt, and the many thoughts that raced through our minds of what we wanted to say.

 Once he was in front of us his radiant smile and tender gaze filled our hearts with joy!

 One of the first things that we were able to tell him, was “Santo Padre, lo amamos!” (Holy Father, we love you!), to which he responded, “Y oran por mi?” (and do you pray for me?) to which we all emphatically said “Si!” (yes!).

 We then let him know that we came representing “los matrimonios” (marriage) to which he said “El matrimonio… el matrimonio es la base de la sociedad, pero hoy en día se cambia de cónyuge como se cambia de camisa. Se trata de fidelidad” (Marriage… marriage is the foundation of society, but today people change spouses like they change shirts. It’s about fidelity.)

 We will forever cherish the words he shared with us. He concluded his encounter with us by asking us to pray for him.

 This pilgrimage has truly been a time of grace in our lives.

 A time to rejoice for the gift of our Domestic Church, our local Church of San Bernardino, and the Universal Church.

 It has been an extraordinary moment in our lives, for we are an ordinary married couple living an ordinary family life, striving to achieve holiness.

 Our experience just goes to show that God blesses his children “…far more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and all we can do is be thankful and praise Him for such infinite love and generosity.

 We pray that the V Encuentro process continues to bear many fruits in our lives and in the lives of all families.