I went to the World Meeting of Families not really knowing what to expect. I knew it had been started by John Paul II, just like World Youth Day, but I approached it more as a “conference” than anything. There were keynotes and breakout sessions, and we received a giant book of the various topics and sessions that we could go to each day. While I expected the atmosphere to be a little less academic than a typical Church conference on marriage and family life, I looked over the list of invited speakers and expected to take a lot of notes and use my brain a lot.
I did do that – both my notebook and my brain was filled at the end of the day. But I was unprepared for the way that would balance with the joy and life that comes from having families gather from all over the world. I suppose in my mind I expected the audience to be mostly diocesan employees, Church leaders, and those who work with families, marriage prep, etc. And while we were there, we were outnumbered (I think) by the families and children.
Hindsight, of course, tells me this makes sense. If it’s like World Youth Day, it should be as filled with families as World Youth Day is with youth. But there was still the “intellectual” side of things — talks by Cardinals and leaders and lawyers and parents and doctors and Sisters– to renew our minds and teach us how to be the lights to the world that we were called to be.
I think the evangelization of the world in regards to family life requires two things. As I mentioned in the post before this, it requires our witness. It requires our joy and love, which the world needs to see simply by the way we live our lives. The convention center was full of families with strollers and ergo baby carriers, teenagers, and grandparents. It was full of families who sacrificed to come to Philadelphia. The Masses may have been celebrated by bishops from around the world with a 20-minute-long processional, but it sounded a lot like the Sunday Mass at my parish: responses punctuated with baby cries, the warbling older woman singing her heart out, and the children getting antsy during the homily. This was a meeting filled with life.
But evangelization also requires a second thing. It requires that we know what we believe, why we believe it, and how to defend it. St. Peter reminds us, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). That means we have to be 1) living with hope in such a way that people see it and 2) we have to be able to explain why we live this way.
Looking back over the incredible week, that’s exactly what the World Meeting of Families did. I know that the papal visit to DC and NYC overshadowed what was happening in Philadelphia, and I know a lot of people just came to the City of Brotherly Love this weekend to see the Pope. But for those who were there for the week, we experienced this line from 1 Peter. It’s not enough to gather families together for fun. We have to be taught and formed and educated. And we were– by the greatest minds in the Church today, like Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Luis Tagle, Helen Alvare, Robert George, Bishop Robert Barron, and Archbishop J. Michael Miller. We were exposed to the incredible work done throughout the country by the hundreds of exhibitors in the gigantic exhibition hall — book publishers and toy makers, colleges and religious orders, media outlets and service organizations.
It was a tiring week to be sure, and I needed to process the events each day over a nice pint, but it was also a week that energized and encouraged those of us in the trenches. The families of the world may be wounded, but we are alive. We may be struggling, but we are united in the Cross of Christ.
We lived the message of Pope Francis this week. Now we pray that we can live it once we go home.