International Relations

Philly Gathering Draws Families Worldwide


PHILADELPHIA — World Meeting of Families 2015 drew participants from 100 countries around the world, energizing them all to proclaim Christ. Individuals, groups and families came to Philadelphia from near and far, by plane, bus and train. Some traveled more than 8,000 miles.

The Register spoke with several groups and families from different parts of the world to learn about their experiences.

One year ago, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria sent out notices for anyone interested in going as a group to World Meeting of Families. It received responses from 115 people, and preparations for the trip began. In the process, 10 were denied visas, and yet the remaining 105 made the journey.

It wasn’t an easy trip, but it was one made joyfully. The group, traveling in two sections, left Nigeria Sept. 20, flying to New York, a bit more than an 11-hour flight. From New York, they took the train to Philadelphia, another hour and a half of travel. It was exhausting yet exciting at the same time.

Dressed alike in the colors of the Nigerian flag, the group was easy to spot, and their joy was contagious.

“We had to come,” said the group’s leader, Sister Regina Tombere, of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus. She is the secretary of the Family and Human Life Unit of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria. “We want to be part of this wonderful and important gathering. And we want to see the Pope.”

Coming to World Meeting of Families was a much different situation for Henry and Tuyen Nguyen and their family.

The Nguyens are originally from Vietnam but now live in New Jersey with their three children. However, they wanted other Vietnamese families to have the opportunity to attend World Meeting of Families. So, from their own pockets and money contributed from fellow parishioners at Most Precious Blood parish in New Jersey, the Nguyens hosted eight people from Vietnam. Those traveling from Vietnam — 16-18 hours of flight time — needed only to cover their airfare to the U.S. The Nguyens footed the bill for registration, food and lodging.

“We wanted to do this for them,” Henry Nguyen said. “It’s hard for them, so we helped them.”

For our Canadian neighbors, traveling to World Meeting of Families might not have been a long distance, but it is international travel nonetheless.

Wat and Lina Gallo came from Ontario with the Canadian Organization for Life and Family. They were accompanied by fellow members Michael MacDonald, also from Ontario, and Amelie Martneau-Lavallee, from Quebec.

They came to be inspired and united with other Catholics.

“This is so very important,” said Wat Gallo. “World Meeting of Families is right here on our continent. Add to that our leader, our Pope, is coming.”

“Seeing all these families has reinforced to me that we’re here and we’re going to be here,” added Lina Gallo. “The family is not disappearing; it’s here to stay.”

“This is a spiritual boost for me,” said Martneau-Lavallee. “From this I can see that the family is actually the protagonist of the New Evangelization.”

For MacDonald, those attending have been issued a special call.

“God has called us to experience grace on a deeper level,” he said.

“There is so much suffering in the world, particularly for families,” added Wat Gallo. “Being here with all these families together is a healing process.”

Although Taylor and Katie Schmidt are natives of Wisconsin, they came to World Meeting of Families by way of Peru. The Schmidts are members of the Family Missions Company, an apostolate of Catholic lay missionaries who bring the Gospel to remote regions of the world. After a year serving the people of Caspizata, Peru, they and their five young children are back in the U.S. for five months obtaining new visas. Then they’ll return to Peru for another five years or more.

For now, they said the family gathering gave witness to their mission and helped them recharge, due to the families’ presence as well as taking in Pope Francis’ message for families.

“Pope Francis is the linchpin that gets us all together,” said Taylor. “He draws attention to the least of our Church and how we can help make them better Catholics.”

Katie was grateful for the excitement of being among so many other families and even more for the support and encouragement they’ve received in their mission.

“It’s such an opportunity to share passion for Christ and his poor together. The Holy Spirit is alive equally within all of us, and we recognize that Spirit in each other.”

Lucio and Gladys Diaz traveled from Argentina, but not because the Holy Father is a native Argentinian. Rather, it’s because he’s the Vicar of Christ.

“The Pope is the Pope,” said Lucio. “It doesn’t matter where he comes from. He is the Vicar of Christ, our spiritual leader, and so we follow him.”

The Diazes brought along their 16-year-old daughter Milagros. Their other 10 children remained in Argentina. Because one of their children has diabetes, it was a challenge to prepare foods and schedules for his care while they were gone. Still, it was worth it.

“We came to find new energy and to spread that energy at home,” Gladys said. “We need new blood, and we’re getting that here.”

The Diazes both cited the hospitality of the American people as the thing that has most touched their hearts, especially their host family in Philadelphia.

Said Lucio, “Without that, our trip would not have been possible, since we could not have afforded it. They have seen to every detail and made us feel at home, even though we can only communicate with our smiles and looks and not language.”

“Also staying in the same house is an African family,” added Gladys. “It’s like we have a mini United Nations in one house.”

Francisco and Luisa Bossa are from Argentina as well. Luisa has been commissioned by Pope Francis to work on the canonization cause of Argentinian nun Venerable Mara Antonia de San Jose. Their two young children were staying with Francisco’s parents back home.

Attending World Meeting of Families is a tradition that began with attendance at World Youth Days when they were younger.

“Ever since it was announced that the World Meeting of Families would be in the United States, we have been committed to coming,” Francisco said.

“Meeting other families from around the world is enlightening,” said Luisa. “It’s like the apostles when they met with Jesus on the road to Damascus or after Pentecost, when they went out into the streets. My heart is burning to go out from here and share what I’ve been given.”

Marge Fenelon covered the

World Meeting of Families

for the Register.