Taking the Joy Beyond Philly
Ambling past each other at the World Meeting of Families, thousands of people conveyed a sense of joy.
Ambling past each other at the World Meeting of Families, in a building reminiscent of a major city airport terminal, 17,000 people conveyed a sense of joy. They were having a collectively good time, even if the only people they knew personally were the ones they came with. It was the sort of gathering where you could walk up to anybody, introduce yourself, and ask them about their deepest thoughts and experiences.
Talks were central to the event schedule, of course, and the talks were heady. But people didn’t come for just an encounter with Jesus the Teacher; it would have been easier to stay home and memorize the Catechism. They came for an encounter with Jesus the Lover. It was a family reunion where everybody had the same Father — God — mother — Mother Mary — and brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins — the saints.
It’s not like there were no dissenters among them. It’s that even those people were part of the family, too. They walked up to the microphones at the break-out sessions and aired their grievances against God or the Church. People responded with compassion and sometimes applause. These people were struggling. If one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers, says St. Paul. Everyone there knew what it was to struggle and to need encouragement in the struggle.
African Cardinal Sarah embodied that spirit in his talk, “The Family: A Light in a Dark World.” In one breath, he decried as heresy the changing of Christ’s perennial teaching on marriage and family. In another, he urged Christian families to show mercy to those who fall outside of it, so they can find the Church as a place of regeneration.
Attendees were by and large aware of this mission and eager for it. Some were clearly “all in.” The sheer number and variety of religious habits walking around showed people who embraced a lifetime commitment to serve God and others. The majority of vocations present, though, belonged to married couples. Marriage is an all-in commitment, too, though fewer and fewer people see it that way. So the presence of faithful families was a blessing to behold.
Kim Savage from Valley Forge, Pa., dressed her four boys in matching orange t-shirts so they’d be easier to spot, should they break loose and attempt to get lost in the crowd. “I panicked last night, before we came down here, so I got the orange, and I also got bright green,” she said. Kim was there with her husband, David, his father, Ron, and her high-school friend Sister Mary Elizabeth of the Sisters of Life. Clearly this group showed up receptive to the messages of the week: Reach out and support other families. Kim is involved with Generation Life, a chastity ministry. David runs the Theology of the Body Institute in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Sister Mary Elizabeth devotes her whole life to pro-life work. A snapshot of them showcased the variety of callings in the Church. Sister Auriesville of the Servants of Our Lord and the Virgin of Matara completed the picture in a way characteristic of the entire event. She picked up the boys in turn and spun them around in circles. As Kim remarked, “She’s an innocent bystander.” Sister Auriesville had just met the family minutes before.
That’s how this place was: a meeting of spiritual relatives. This is the Church at her most attractive, the Church that those outside it don’t see unless the people in it let them. Luckily, that’s why people were there. Sandy Schluter is a director of youth ministry at her parish in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. “It’s not easy raising four kids and working full time at the church,” she said. “It really has become a kind of family ministry for us.” Sandy and her family go on mission trips regularly with Catholic Heart Work Camp, which brings material and spiritual comfort to people in depressed neighborhoods or those that have been hit by disaster. Its stated mission is “restoring hope to those who have none.” This year was the first year
Sandy’s husband was able to join her on a mission trip, adding to the blessing of mission within the family.
That’s in line with what Archbishop Socrates Villegas, of Lingayen-Dagupan, Philippines, told the audience at his break-out session on marriage, “One Ring to Rule Them All.” You don’t have to institutionalize your mission work, he told a woman who was frustrated that her pastor nixed her idea to start a support group for married people. She could do it in her own home or at a coffee shop, he advised. “The baptized carry the mission to teach, bless and serve,” the archbishop said. “Everybody should be like an arrow pointing to God.”
Dorothy Turner, who flew in from Chicago, talked about how her faith goes with her when she serves disadvantaged kids in the public school where she teaches.
“I teach in a very poor suburb, so I get to see kids and people who are supported and who are not. I get to see two different types, and it's very challenging. You can see the breakdown when that doesn't happen. I feel prayer helps me a lot, and I'll stop in the middle of anything and say a Hail Mary. It's really what I teach my two kids: God is always with you. My husband is an avid pray-er. We really learned how to pray from him. I find, as I get older, I pray more. I'm praying all the time for my students, the children that I serve.” She says the kids often tell her their problems: “I'll say, 'You didn't do your homework,' and they'll say 'Nobody cares'; and it just breaks your heart." Dorothy is not allowed to talk about God in the public school, "but it's so much a part of me. My faith goes with me everywhere.”
The important thing is that every Christian family do as Cardinal Sarah urged and “make love visible” and as attractive as an orange t-shirt made it at the World Meeting of Families.
Susie Lloyd covered the World Meeting of Families for the Register.
- world meeting of families 2015