World Meeting of Families


A week ago today (September 27), the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia ended with a Papal Mass. When I came home, the experiences I had there were buzzing around in my head like bees. When someone asked me what I took away from the event I had no idea how to start my answer. Today, I am beginning to understand what happened.

The conference talks were excellent. Among the speakers were Fr. Robert Barron, Cardinal Tagle of Manila, Scott Hahn, and Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. In the keynote speeches and break out sessions a lot of background information about the Church’s teaching concerning Marriage and Family Life, the hardships facing families today in different parts of the world and how the Church might respond to them, was presented. The speakers provided not just data but insights (often through stories) about how challenges can become pastoral opportunities.

As impressive as those presentations were, I found best part of the event was the interaction with ordinary people. Whether standing in line to get a coffee or use the washroom, people shared their lived experiences. The issues confronting families in the West are somewhat different from those in the developing world. Poverty, violence and ethnic tensions are often experienced more intensely in these regions. Many of the stories I heard were troubling yet inspiring because families persevered in spite of the hardships.

Mass was another occasion when such interactions occurred. One day before Mass began, a family came up the aisle searching for seats. Since there were not enough adjoining seats, they had to split up with the father, mother and younger children sitting in front of me. The youngest daughter, who was just learning to talk, kept saying “Hi” to everyone throughout Mass. The parents, aware this was causing a distraction, tried everything to keep her quiet, with little success. Although the Bishop that day gave a wonderful sermon, those parents gave a better one by the way they loved their daughter.

One idea I heard which has prompted some reflection was the need for parents to evangelize their children before catechizing them. Many parents assume if a child grows up in a “Catholic” environment (learning their prayers, going to Mass on Sunday, being taught right from wrong) he or she will automatically develop a strong faith. The speaker argued this approach is why so many Catholics from “good” homes leave the Church when they get older. Parents need to foster a relationship with Christ in their children from the start. They need to talk to their kids about why they believe in God, pray daily, go to Confession regularly and live accroding to the Ten Commandments. Obviously, they must also practice what they preach. Unless evangelization occurs, catechesis, whether done at home or in school, will accomplish little because it becomes just more information which can be discarded later as unimportant.

Those in ordained ministry or undergoing formation for it recognize the challenges facing parents who seek to pass the faith on to their children. One challenge is their children encounter other parents who do not take their responsibility seriously. It is tough to be one of the few students in a class (in a Catholic school) who goes to Church each Sunday. The child will complain “Why do we have to go to Mass when no one else does?” Another challenge is the parent’s faith is not perfect. Kids watch everything their parents do and notice the inconsistencies between what adults say and do. Passing on the faith can be a humbling and at times seemly impossible task. Finally, since faith is a personal matter, many parents are uncomfortable sharing it with others. Some find it hard to articulate what they believe and why.

Pastoral ministers need to support parents in this important but difficult task. Listening to the frustrations of parents, educating them about Church teachings and offering support are vital. Events like the World Meeting of Families can be helpful to pastors and families because they learn they are not alone in their struggles.

The next World Meeting of Families occurs in Dublin in 2018. I am thinking about going. I wonder if the coffee is any good.