Children, parents and bishops returned to Australia feeling inspired and spiritually energised following their experience at the 8th World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, United States from 22-27 September 2015.
“The kids summarised their experience as “Awesome” and they want to do it all over again,” said Cathy Bourke, mother of four children whose family represented the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at the gathering.
From the Diocese of Darwin, Cathy and Matt Bourke travelled with their four children: Michael (12), Joel (11), Trinity (9) and Sebastian (5) to the States.
“The children loved the music and witness given everyday and learning about the American saints.”
The children’s congress took place concurrently while adults attended keynote presentations and plenary sessions at the World Meeting of Families (WMF).
“Each morning the children were up and ready to go, not wanting to miss a minute!”
Cathy recalls that “at the end of each day of the Kids Congress, the children were so alive. They’d clearly been energised and inspired through their experiences.”
“The volunteers at the Kids Congress brought the Aussie kids together and were wonderful.
“Our kids also especially enjoyed their interactions with the Australian bishops: Archbishop Fisher, Emeritus Archbishop Hickey and our pilgrimage chaplain Bishop Kennedy.”
In summing up the experience, Cathy said, “The presence of God was overwhelmingly felt at the congress and it was a very blessed time”.
For the parents, “the Keynotes and other talks were fantastic in their insight and presentation. We were blessed to receive inspiring and affirming messages on family life, especially in the light of God’s love and grace”, she added.
While watching Pope Francis travel around the final Mass venue in the Pope mobile, Matt Bourke tweeted a simple question from his son Sebastian, “Is Saint Francis winning the race?” “We believe he is,” Matt quipped.
At the end of the closing Mass, Pope Francis presented a copy of the Gospel of St Luke to a family from each of the six continents. The family chosen for Oceania was an Australian one, Thomas and Tina Coorey and their four children, Samuel, Luke, Christian and Gabrielle, from Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Kingsgrove in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Australian pilgrimage organisers, Dr Ron and Mavis Pirola, Chair-Couple of the Australian Catholic Marriage & Family Council (ACMFC), described the overall experience as “realistic and uplifting”.
Led by the Bishop Delegate for Marriage and Family, Michael Kennedy, Ron and Mavis helped to bring twenty-one adults and 23 children, aged between 3 years and 14 years, to the World Meeting of Families. “Bishop Kennedy quickly became King of the Kids”, the couple reported.
Ron and Mavis felt the highlight of the gathering was “the closing papal Mass with more than 100,000 people. It was a wonderful joyful time with people from all over the world in the beautiful open surroundings of historic Benjamin Franklin Parkway”.
“One of the advantages of moving as a pilgrimage group was the intimate Masses we shared at pilgrimage shrines and historic churches along the way.” The pilgrimage began from Sydney to Washington, D.C. and then onto Philadelphia.
The gathering was “an inspiring reminder that the future of society is mainly shaped through the family and that God’s mercy is always available to us. We are loved more than we realise and we are created to pass on that love,” the couple said.
Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher reported that at the end of the World Meeting of Families pilgrimage the Aussies had a dinner together and talked movingly about their experiences during the week. “All agreed it had been a tremendous time together and that we will return with much to share with our families, parishes and dioceses.”
The next World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin, Ireland in 2018.