by MICHELLE KAUFMAN
Love is Our Mission, the Family Fully Alive, was the theme of the eighth World Meeting of Families held over the week of September 22 to 27 in Philadelphia.
The World Meeting of Families was founded by St Pope John Paul II in 1992, to strengthen the sacred bonds of the
family unit across the globe.
This year the World Meeting of Families Congress attracted more than 17,500 people from more than 100 different
The weekend events with Pope Francis included the Festival of Families on Saturday and the papal Mass on Sunday, which more than 800,000 people attended.
Although most media attention focused on the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, a week of prayer, catechesis, meetings and celebration was taking place at the massive Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The congress was held under the patronage of St Pope John Paul II, the pope of the family, and another modern-day
saint, St Gianna Beretta Molla.
Although the story of St Pope John Paul II is well known, not many have heard the story of St Gianna. She was a
doctor and mother who, in 1962, refused an abortion or any medical intervention that would take the life of her unborn child, after a large benign tumour was found in her womb.
St Gianna gave her life so that her daughter, also called Gianna, could live. Her daughter was at the World Meeting of Families and it was a great privilege for attendees to have the rare opportunity to meet her.
Walking the corridors of the convention centre was a reminder of the universality of the Church and the importance
of the family for the good of society.
Children, parents, grandparents, bishops, priests, seminarians and nuns all mingled, witnessing to their vocations
and encouraging one another in faith.
Many remarked that the enormous presence of mainly young priests, seminarians and religious, all in religious
garb, was unique and uplifting. Families need religious. Religious need families.
Children were excited to have nuns lead small groups at the Youth Congress, which ran for those aged between 6 and
17. Buzzing with excitement, the youth wing of the convention centre was a hive of activity as children and young adults learnt about their faith, family and the call to serve one another through age appropriate tasks and talks.
Catechesis for adults was provided in the form of keynote addresses by speakers who included Bishop Robert Barron
(Word on Fire), Cardinal Robert Sarah (Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments), and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Philippines).
Following each keynote speech, breakout sessions addressed the joys and challenges of family life today. Those sessions provided the opportunity for people to look deeper at family issues closest to their hearts.
Prayer was central. Mass was celebrated each day and the sacrament of Reconciliation was available throughout.
Hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals processed in during the opening Mass. For those weary from the hustle
and bustle of the halls, respite could be found in the Adoration Chapel. There, pilgrims found solitude with the Person who ultimately the World Meeting of Families is about.
Hours were spent walking through the exhibition hall, which showcased the work of more than 1000 businesses,
apostolates and religious orders.
To some it may seem extravagant for people to travel vast distances to congregate in one place to celebrate and share concerns about the family. But in a world where the family is under constant attack, the World Meeting of Families gives people hope. Hope that the family can be protected and celebrated. Hope that the family will become a building block of love and service in order to renew society and evangelise the world.
The next World Meeting of Families will be in Dublin, Ireland, in 2018.
Michelle Kaufman works for Family Life International NZ.