By the time you read this column, I will be in the middle of the first week of the Extraordinary Synod in Rome.
I suspect you will be following the proceedings on the news. Pope Francis has called for the church to be renewed by the gifts of marriage and family, to reach out to all families, especially those who are hurting, and to pray for one another that we might be true instruments of the mercy of God.
This synod is preparatory to the General Synod on the Family next October, and there will surely be consultation between both.
As if two synods were not enough, we have yet another blessing for the family. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the World Meeting of Families will be in the United States next year and that it will be the occasion for the first trip of Pope Francis to the United States. What could be more exciting?
For some of you, there may be an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. I am writing now because it occurs next September (2015), and special planning will need to take place. The event will offer days of family activities and catechesis. It may not be a theme park, but you can anticipate great excitement with a much greater effect on your hearts and your families. The theme is an attractive one: “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
The first World Meeting of Families was called by St. John Paul II in 1994. I went to Valencia for the fifth World Meeting of Families in 2006 and gathered with Pope Benedict XVI and one and a half million faithful for the closing Mass. It was superb.
Next September the plan is for a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Many will remember the famous run by the boxer “Rocky” up the steps of the Art Museum at one end of the parkway. Our Holy Father will be celebrating Mass on the parkway, and I suspect that it can hold more than a million people.
If you want to get a taste of what it will be like, look at the catechetical document, Love is our Mission, created in preparation for this Meeting of Families. With ten chapters filled with solid teaching and concrete suggestions, Love is our Mission begins by announcing that the virtue of joy is at the heart of the family centered in God. The lessons uncover God’s wonderful plan meant for all people. Pope Francis said it best last year — “The family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world; it is the leaven of society.”
Of course, every one of us is meant for joy through living a life for others, thanks to Christ’s grace. We are all called to friendship. There is that special form of friendship called marriage, and this catechetical documentexplains church teaching on marriage in plain words — words with a beauty that can inspire. For more information, go to http://www.worldmeeting2015.org/about-the-event/catechesis/. (There also are lesson plans for elementary and high school students.)
How much our culture yearns for a renewal of family life. I believe the most central task is to restore confidence — confidence that with God’s help our families are able to thrive and flourish. This great meeting will help us to uncover the beauty of the family and not wait until we are perfect before we do so. In the midst of the struggles and challenges, how much we need to be encouraged. We desperately need families who are leaven in our world!
A few weeks ago, I joined with Sue Brodfehrer, director of our Family Ministries Office, and some of the couple mentors who volunteer their time to help engaged couples as they prepare for marriage. Some have just begun this volunteer work, but others have been at it for more than a decade. (For more information about this ministry, contact Sue Brodfehrer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 636-0296). These mentor couples exhibited such positive energy and commitment. Surely, if we are to follow the call of Pope Francis to accompany one another through life, these mentor couples and many more will be needed.
If you are feeling disappointed because you cannot travel to Philadelphia in September, don’t be. We are working on ways that you can be part of this event from your home in the archdiocese through opportunities such as live streaming, catechesis and meetings and gatherings held before and after the World Meeting of Families.
We want this historic event — the first visit of Pope Francis and the gathering of families from throughout the world — to be remembered and to bring about the renewal of our families. Pray that love will be our mission and that our church will be filled with families fully alive!
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz