A closer look at what’s happening in Philadelphia

The World Meeting of Families is underway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival on Saturday, September 26.  Preceding the pope’s visit, speakers from across the country and even some internationally known figures will be presenting on topics relating to the meeting’s’ theme: “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”  According to the website, the theme intends to “[emphasize] the impact of the love and life of families on our society.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia expanded on the theme in his letter welcoming the participants in the meeting to his city.

“Our theme, ‘Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive’ was inspired by the early Church Father, St. Irenaeus, who wrote ‘the Glory of God is man fully alive.’  The glory of men and women is their capacity to love as God loves—and no better means exists to teach the meaning of love than the family,” Chaput’s letter reads.  “His Holiness, Pope Francis, also inspired the theme.  He embodies the message of mercy, joy and love at the heart of the Gospel.”

Bishop Robert Barron began the conference with his keynote address entitled “Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love.”  The bishop is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and newly appointed auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles.  According to the website, “This talk [was] an exploration of the extravagant biblical claim that human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God.  Our likeness to God is revealed in our intelligence, our hunger for the good, our creativity, our freedom, and, above all, in our capacity for relationship.  In living for the other, in giving ourselves away in love, we most resemble God, who is love.”

Other speakers included Archbishop Michael Miller, CSB, of Vancouver, who spoke on the role of parents as the primary catechists, and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, Philippines, who related that “[i]t is from marriages and families that the Church calls her sons to be priests and children are introduced to the healing sacraments of Reconciliation, the Eucharist, and Anointing.”

Speakers crossed denominations, as witnessed by Reverend Terrence Griffith, the pastor of the oldest African-American Baptist Church in Pennsylvania, who gave a presentation entitled “In the City: Concerns of the Urban Family.”  Also present were Reverends Nicky Lee and Tory Baucum of Anglican Churches in London, United Kingdom, and Fairfax, Virginia, respectively, who with three others spoke on “Family—Domestic Church: Way of Evangelization and Ecumenism.”

Many lay people also contributed to the Congress.  The CEO and co-founder of CatholicMatch.com and the CatholicMatch Institute, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the managing editor for the CatholicMatch Institute collaborated on a talk called “Where is this Relationship Going? Dating as Discernment.”

Today, Scott Hahn, a well-known speaker, author, and professor, will explore the meaning of a covenant in Scripture, especially its place in marriage.  In addition, Robert George and Sherif Girgis, co-authors of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, will “discuss the nature and purposes of marriage and the importance of establishing and maintaining a flourishing marriage culture.”

Ron Belgau, co-founder of the Spiritual Friendship blog, and his mother, Beverley, “will share their own stories as a way of highlighting some of the challenges faced by same-sex-attracted Catholics and their families.  They will also talk about how Catholics should respond with both grace and truth to gay or lesbian friends or family members who struggle with or reject Catholic teaching on chastity.”

Melissa Moschella, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Catholic University of America, spoke with the Rover about the talk she will give tomorrow in collaboration with four other speakers entitled, “Marriage Then and Now: The Expectations of Matrimony at the Birth of the US Nation.”

Quoting from the website, she said that her panel “explores historical views of marriage in American culture.  Since the American experience of marriage has evolved significantly over the past 250 years, we will explore these developments and their implications.  As we strive to be faithful to the perennial understanding of marriage presented by the Church, the example of remarkable couples like John and Abigail Adams can offer insight and inspiration.  Our Catholic vision of the family as the domestic church serves as the foundation from which we will analyze current and past understandings of marriage as well as anticipate what we hope to see in the future.”

When asked if the World Meeting of Families is at all relevant for university students, Moschella responded by saying that it is for everyone.  “Healthy families, which flow from healthy marriages, are crucial to the flourishing of individuals and societies.  The [World Meeting of Families] speakers will offer crucial insights, both theoretical and practical, to help attendees deepen their understanding of the beautiful vision of marriage and family life that the Church offers, learn how to articulate and express the beauty of genuine marriage in a culture that is increasingly hostile, and discover practical ways to enrich and strengthen their own marriages and families (and/or to prepare themselves for a happy marriage in the future).

“All university students,” she continued, “are members of a family, all are living in the midst of a society that misunderstands the true nature of marriage, and most hope to marry and raise a family of their own, so these themes are directly relevant to them in many ways.”

Responding to the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on same-sex marriage, Moschella told the Rover,It could be considered providential that the [World Meeting of Families] is being held in the US in the wake of the Obergefell decision—obviously, no one knew that this decision would occur when the meeting was first planned, so it seems that God in his providence has arranged things in this way to provide an opportunity for the Church to offer a powerful witness to the beauty of its vision of marriage and family life, to educate many people (Catholic and non-Catholics alike) with regard to this vision, and to offer encouragement and advice to those striving to be faithful to this vision despite the legal and cultural obstacles.

“The fact that thousands of individuals and families are coming together to celebrate, learn about, and witness to the joy and beauty of marriage lived in fidelity to God’s plan (and to the natural moral order) is a powerful sign for a culture, and I hope that it will serve as an inspiration to many people,” she added.

The World Meeting of Families will conclude with the Festival of Families on Saturday, September 26, at which Pope Francis is scheduled to make an appearance.  Moschella spoke to the significance of the pope’s visit to the United States.

“A Pope’s visit is always an extraordinary moment of grace, a time in which God touches the hearts of people in a special way, leading some to return like the prodigal son and be welcomed anew into their Father’s house, sparking in others new and deeper conversion; illuminating some to discover their particular vocation in life, strengthening others on the path of joyful fidelity to their calling,” Moschella said.

“And for the nation as a whole it is an opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal, an impetus to take concrete steps in order to bring our laws and culture more closely into line with the demands of human dignity.  I hope and pray that, as individuals and as a nation, we may open our hearts to receive and respond generously to the flood of graces that God wants to send us during this special time,” she concluded.
John VanBerkum is a senior studying philosophy and theology.  If you are attending the papal Mass on Sunday, he recommends that you purchase a zucchetto to trade with Pope Francis.  He has seen this work before.  If you are successful, please let him know at jvanberk@nd.edu.