We looked forward to living this experience with other families who also want to have Christ as the center of their lives. We wanted our children to see the reality of the Catholic Church as truly a universal Church; to meet other boys and girls from around the world who, like them, love their faith. We wanted to hear words of hope and to reinforce in our minds and hearts the reality that love is our mission.
After traveling more than 2,700 miles and more than 17 hours, we were able to overcome the first challenge; we arrived in the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection, Philadelphia. Despite the grueling travel schedule, the children and the more than 70 pilgrims were in good spirits, thanks be to God!
On the first day, the group took a tour to the nation’s capital. The highlight of the visit was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is one of the most important sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary; a sacred place of worship, reverence, and pilgrimage. It is also the largest Catholic Church in the United States, and eighth largest in the world.
That same day, while the group was in Washington D.C., our family participated in the First Meeting of Hispanic/Latin-American Families. We were humbled to represent our Region 11 which consists of California, Nevada and Hawaii. Selected leaders from the United States and Latin America were summoned to dialogue on the challenges and opportunities Spanish-speaking families face today. We heard motivating talks by U.S. and Latin American bishops, including our very own Bishop Gerald Barnes.
It was also an honor to be selected the custody family of the Encuentro Cross. The Encuentro is a process for Hispanic/Latino ministry that has been a deeply ecclesial experience. It is motivated by reading the signs of the times and convened by the United States Bishops. The Encuentro Cross symbolizes the journey of faith of the Catholic Hispanic people in the United States during the last 50 years. It is also a symbol of solidarity and communion with the Church in Latin America. We walked in procession through the streets of downtown Philadelphia with the cross, to the Philadelphia Convention Center. The cross was later presented to the Holy Father for a special blessing by a local family.
This day was filled with a sense of friendship and solidarity with Hispanic families from other regions and countries. We started the WMOF sharing and meeting families who also have the same interest in the pastoral care of marriage and family life. Our bishops, who were also present, helped to reaffirm the importance of Marriage and Family Life Ministry.
The following afternoon Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput inaugurated the World Meeting of Families. He recalled that nearly 300 years ago, in 1732 in that city, 11 people attended the first Mass of a Jesuit, Father Joseph Greaton. He then noted that another Jesuit, Pope Francis, would celebrate the Mass for us and will bring together millions of people from around the world at the closing of the 2015 WMOF.
During the opening keynote, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron proclaimed that “the family is the place where we are taught to be prophets, priests, and kings. … Families are where a sense of mission among the children is cultivated and encouraged.”
The WMOF conference is the largest gathering of Catholic families from all over the world. It aims to explore the challenges and strengths that family life has in society through daily Mass, devotions, keynote addresses and breakout sessions. The pilgrims say they are rejuvenated by the teachings they have learned in Philadelphia and are renewed in their faith.
The World Meeting of Families Conference concluded with participants listening to Rick Warren, bestselling author and pastor of Saddleback Church, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston taking the stage to talk about “The Joy of the Gospel of Life.”
Pastor Warren was invited by Pope Francis to be the concluding speaker at last November’s Humanum Colloquium at the Vatican. Cardinal O’Malley addressed the importance of Warren being present by saying: “It’s important that Rick Warren is here. This is a witness of unity that’s important in today’s world, as we strive to proclaim the Gospel of life: the need to protect every human being from the first moment of conception until natural death, to defend the family as a sanctuary of life, and family as a sacred calling described on the first pages of the Bible as a man who leaves his mother and father to be joined in one flesh to his wife. It’s a great consolation to share this stage with a fellow Christian who is truly committed to preaching the Gospel. We are truly blessed by his presence and his friendship.”
During the week of the WMOF, pilgrims from our Diocese had the opportunity to attend the first Canonization Mass ever held in the United Sates. The Canonization of St. Junipero Serra brings joy to our Diocese and is a gift to the Church as he once ministered in our region and state.
The final two days of the WMOF, Pope Francis was the guest of honor. The Festival of Families and concluding Mass had record-breaking attendance. In a night full of joyful songs and moving testimonies, Pope Francis presided over the Festival of Families and the prayer vigil of the World Meeting of Families 2015 in Philadelphia.
One of the early surprises of the Festival of Families was that Mark Wahlberg was the emcee. The well-known actor and American producer said that he attributed his success in the film industry to his Catholic faith. “My faith helps me to be a good father, a good husband, and a good human being. Faith brings joy to my life,” he said.
Later in the evening, Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, shared with the audience a moving fragment of the letter her mother wrote to her husband, Pietro, after they got married. She then gave a relic of her mother to the Pope, who kissed it as soon as it was shown to him. Saint Gianna, ill with cancer, refused the advice to procure an abortion.
The day of the concluding Mass truly gave us the experience of a pilgrimage. Prayer, fasting, and sacrifice were experienced by every person in the pilgrimage. It took five hours of standing and walking to reach the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the Mass with at least one million people would take place. What most struck us were the simple words that Pope Francis said, “Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”
At the end, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, announced that Dublin, Ireland will be the site of the next World Meeting of Families in 2018. May we all begin to pray for this blessed event. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!