The World Meeting of Families event was conceived by St John Paul II in 1992 to look at strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe. The first event took place in Rome in 1994, the International Year of the Family.
This year, two families representing the Diocese of Parramatta attended the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, US, from 22-27 September.
The Wilkinson family from Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park, is headed by Brad and Natalie. The McLaughlin family from St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, is headed by Jim and Julie-Ann.
At our local Diocesan Family Gathering on 18 October, they shared their experience of participating in such an uplifting event in the life of the Church. Here are two reflections.
We started our journey towards the World Meeting of Families with a sense of awe. We couldn’t understand why our family had been selected to represent the Diocese.
Travelling overseas with five young children seemed daunting as the furthest we had travelled was Queensland. But despite the unknowns, we put our faith in the Lord to lead us on this journey.
As we prepared for the trip, we met the McLaughlins and our families got on like a house on fire. This connection gave us some more confidence for the journey.
The long flight to Washington was tough and our family struggled to readjust to the time zone and get enough sleep. We were lucky to be with eight other families, Bishop Michael Kennedy and Ron and Mavis Pirola from Australia to help us acclimatise to the US.
In Philadelphia, we enjoyed a few days of listening to the world’s top speakers on marriage and the family at a Family Congress. One of the key outcomes of the Congress was that my husband, Brad, felt called to be the spiritual leader of our family, which I am happy to support.
He is now leading prayer in our home and taking an active role as head of our family.
We were excited to attend a Vigil and a Mass with Pope Francis, despite the long waits in large crowds.
We saw the best and worst of our children in these moments. But we have now learnt to love them as they are, as God sees them.
By loving them in this way we were able to experience one aspect of the event’s theme: ‘the family fully alive’. All families are broken in some way and by embracing this reality we can be open to Christ’s participation in our family so we can be fully alive.
One of the blessings my wife, Julie-Ann, and I have received from participating in the World Meeting of Families, is the realisation that Christianity should not be a private affair and that we as Catholics need not be silent.
We have good news about Christ, about the family and about how families contribute to all we hold dear, for indeed our families are the ‘Domestic Church’. This conviction was fostered in a number of aspects of the event.
Firstly, by the universality of our Church as we witnessed lines of bishops and priests, all from their own families, from the nations of the world, process in to concelebrate Mass in Spanish, Vietnamese and English, to a vast audience.
We have a universal message with a universal appeal.
Secondly, the truth and simplicity in Christ’s message for the family. That we aim to imitate the love between the persons of the Holy Trinity within the family.
Thirdly, the practicality of the message that the Church and the Holy Father urges: ‘waste time with your children’. Grow by loving your spouse and your children with their failings and yours. Strive, pick yourself up and try again when you fail.
Practice at home to love, and then take that out to others you meet. Love is our mission and it starts and ends in the home!
Overall, the key message that we received is that the Church needs families to re-convert the West through imitating Christ’s love for us in our families and by doing so re-evangelise the West. Oh, and also that it is possible!
If you doubt it can be done, we challenge you to come to the next World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland, in three years and hear for yourself that it is possible.
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