The World Meeting of Families has wrapped up Part I: the congress, a series of keynote addresses and breakout sessions in multiple languages, daily Masses with extraordinary processions of miters, and 20,000 people trying to navigate a convention center. It has been well-managed chaos, making it seem like that huge number of participants can’t actually be real. It’s the most people the World Meeting has attracted since its founding by St. John Paul II in 1994.
Part II begins tomorrow, when Pope Francis arrives for the World Meeting of Families. Anticipation is thick. This morning, security set up a perimeter around the area Pope Francis will be tomorrow, and getting in and out appears daunting, although right now it’s easy. (Although one Philadelphian just called it “a police state.”) I have no idea what to expect tomorrow when our group arrives. We’re scheduled to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa tomorrow for Mass tomorrow, but it sounds like other groups in the Minnesota contingent are changing plans to get to downtown Philadelphia earlier.
Nobody’s really certain what to expect. My husband asked if I’m going to try to take a selfie with Pope Francis. I’ll just be happy if I glimpse him with my own eyes.
For me, there’s a definite perceived disconnect between the Holy Father’s visit and the World Meeting of Families, even though I’m completely aware that the World Meeting is why he’s here. He’s made that clear, too, through his emphasis to Congress on the importance of the family and his concerns about young adults’ fear to form their own families, as well as his overtures to children throughout the trip so far.
Sister Candace Fier, a Schoenstatt sister and the director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of New Ulm, said that disconnect isn’t supposed to exist.
“I would hope that people would see it as one,” she said. “I’ve talked to people who have attended other World Meeting of Families, and I’ve gotten the impression that the United States is really the only one that has separated the papal visit from the World Meeting of Families. We’ve kind of made them two separate events. I think the Holy Father was coming for of the World Meeting of Families, he was coming to address our families. He was coming to make this a worldwide encounter with the father of the Church, and in that sense I hope that people don’t see it as two separate things, because we take away from the beauty and the depth of what this experience is meant to be.
“He came to see our families together,” she continued. “He came to give a message to our families here — not individuals here or there. It’s not another speaking engagement, another thing that was put on the agenda for his visit to the United States. He came to give a message to this group as the Holy Father has done every three years since John Paul started it. I hope we don’t lose sight of that, because I think we need to listen carefully. The message is specific to us as families, as Church.”
At the core, that’s why Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.
“It’s the World Meeting of Families — not the World Meeting about Families,” Michael said. “We just thought it was important to bring them, plus the sense of getting the larger Church, the global Church for them. They’re not going to remember a whole lot about what people say, but they will hopefully have some memory of a bunch of people.”
People’s reaction? “The weirdest thing is that a bunch of people will take pictures of us with our kids, like, ‘Look — a real, live family!’,” he said. “Other than that, it’s been fine, everyone’s happy to see kids.”
Kristen has a backpack of crayons, coloring books, toys and prizes for good behavior.
“It keeps them entertained for at least 10 minutes,” she joked.
I’ve maybe been among those weird, oggly pilgrims Michael mentioned. I really miss my husband and toddler, and seeing families together makes me think of them.
There have been many families at the World Meeting; it includes a youth conference for school-age kids, and plenty of mothers have been nursing their infants. This morning during Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s address, I walked past a few siblings playing on the convention center floor with Legos. Smart mom, I thought.
But the challenge put forth during the World Meeting for so many moms and dads is far beyond keeping kids quiet in Church or a bishop’s presentation. It’s making the home a domestic church.