Family Focus: World Meeting of Families 2015
Excitement for the World Meeting of Families has been building on the East Coast since 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI announced to a million Mass-goers at the seventh such meeting in Milan, Italy, that Philadelphia would be the site of the next meeting.
When Catholics in the City of Brotherly Love caught wind of the announcement, many were oblivious to its impact. However, the scope and importance has gradually come into focus in preparation for September 22–27, when Philadelphians will welcome the world—and Pope Francis, too! World Meetings of Families have been occurring every few years in different cities around the globe since 1994. Saint Pope John Paul II convened the first meeting in Rome to mark the United Nations’ International Year of the Family. Since then, the gathering has taken place in Rio de Janeiro; Manila; Valencia, Spain; Mexico City; and Milan, with a return trip to Rome during the jubilee year of 2000. This year’s event in Philadelphia marks the first time the World Meeting of Families has landed in the United States. The U.S. hasn’t hosted a global gathering of Catholics on this scale since the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver.
John Paul entrusted the organization of the first World Meeting of Families to the Pontifical Council for the Family, and that branch of the Roman Curia oversees the events. Since its founding in 1981 by John Paul, the council has accepted the task of promoting the pastoral care of the family and protecting the rights and dignity of families in the Church and in civil society. The World Meeting of Families is one way in which the council carries out its mission.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, a gregarious Italian prelate who currently leads the Pontifical Council for the Family, has visited Philadelphia repeatedly in preparation for the event. He and the Vatican staff of the Pontifical Council have been working closely with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, city officials, and a huge crew of dedicated volunteers and staff to get ready for the big meeting.
Details of the event’s theme, symbols, and structure have been rolling out slowly over the last year, while a fuller picture has developed in recent months. At this writing we know the meeting’s basic schedule, its official hymn and icon, its preparatory catechesis, logo, theme, and even its milk shake—a shortbread and vanilla flavor chosen by Archbishop Paglia and the schoolchildren of the Redemptorist parish of St. Peter the Apostle in a fund-raising partnership with Potbelly Sandwich Shop!
The theme for this World Meeting is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” The meeting will be devoted to strengthening the bonds of families throughout the world using a variety of components to achieve its tasks and encouraging people to participate.
When he spoke to American Catholic bishops at their annual gathering last November and invited them to the World Meeting of Families in his archdiocese, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, reflected on the topics and speakers for the congress, stating:
“The World Meeting of Families will deal with a wide range of family issues where our faith is both needed and tested. These are matters that affect families not only here in the United States but on a global scale. So we want to focus…not just on the neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media, but on things like the family and poverty, the family and addiction, the family and children with disabilities, the loss of a spouse, the effect of divorce and coparenting, health and wellness as building blocks to preserving the family, creating real intimacy between husband and wife, the challenges of raising children, the role of grandparents, the parish as a support community for families, and similar themes. And we want to involve the whole community in this celebration, which is why we’ve included Jewish, Mormon, Muslim and Protestant presenters on issues that we all share—regardless of confessional divides.”