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Sixth World Meeting of Families

February 5, 2009 11:23 am

“IT IS IN THE HOME WHERE ONE LEARNS TO TRULY LIVE” The family as the basic school of life was the underlying message of the 6th World Meeting of Families. Held in Mexico City from Jan 14-18, it was a colourful and inspiring experience of the Universal Church. For five days, families from around the world, with 40 Cardinals and 200 Bishops, took part in this massive Gathering. It began with a Pastoral and Theological Congress. Speaking at the opening session, the newly appointed President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, gave a warm and enthusiastic welcome to participants. He said, ‘We are many and one in virtue of Christ and the Holy Spirit. We represent different peoples and cultures of the People of God’. This was specially manifested in the concluding Festive Vigil and the Final Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe which attracted a huge crowd. World Meetings of Families have been described as ‘World Youth Days for families’. They were initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1994 as an expression of his irrepressible confidence in the importance of family life for the Church and for society. Each meeting is convened by the Pontifical Council for the Family and is hosted by a Diocese in a different city. Previous meetings have been held in Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Manila, and Valencia. The theme of this Gathering in Mexico City was ‘Family, Teacher of Human and Christian Values’. Australia was represented in various ways. A delegation of 20 Australians attended. It was led by Bishop Eugene Hurley of Darwin Diocese who participated in his role as President of the Australian Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life. Bishop Eugene Hurley commented: ‘It was a great joy to accompany the Australian delegation to Mexico for the World Meeting. Having time to be with families and to reflect daily with them is a great gift to any bishop. The celebration in Mexico was packed with rich theology, deep prayer and excellent liturgies. I was so impressed with the warmth and the devotion of the Mexican people, young and old. I think we have much to learn from the obvious passion the Mexican people have for their faith. Their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is absolutely inspiring and leaves me with the challenge to replicate it in my life. I am deeply grateful to Mavis and Ron Pirola who lead our pilgrimage beautifully and shepherded all of us through unchartered waters. The family is the basic unit of society and as mentioned in Mexico is the school of love. I commit myself and the Bishop’s Commission for Pastoral Life to working tirelessly for the family in Australia.’ Australian delegates were from six Dioceses, namely, Darwin, Melbourne, Rockhampton, Sandhurst, Sydney and Wagga Wagga. Melbourne Archdiocese was represented by Gerard and Anne O’Shea, of St Patrick’s Parish, Mentone. “Over the past seven years, four of our children have attended at least one World Youth Day’, commented Gerard. ‘When they returned, they had all been deeply touched by what they had experienced. For us, the World Meeting of Families was very similar. Just being in the presence of so many committed Catholic families from all over the world lifted our spirits and filled us with a sense of being part of the whole Catholic Church.’ ‘The testimonies regarding the way in which families live out their Catholic faith in their own culture were genuinely inspiring’, added Anne. ‘The conference talks were brilliant, and the gatherings at every event were touching and unforgettable. Our participation in the World Meeting of Families has renewed our commitment to the family apostolate in our own part of the world.” Each evening, the Australian delegation would meet together with Bishop Hurley to reflect on the day, to pray and to discuss possible new initiatives for Australia. There were four children in the Australian delegation, helping to keep the sense of family, and of course there were huge numbers of young children present at the Congress with a large area dedicated to their care and entertainment during the day. The youngest member of the Australian delegation (and one of the youngest of the whole Congress), was Jerome Shaw, aged 7 months, who travelled with his parents Ben and Emily of Wagga Wagga Diocese. Jerome was an instant centre of attention wherever he went and his photo has already appeared throughout Mexico! Many Australian families contributed to a huge collage made up of thousands of family photos. These were put together to create a giant image of the Holy Father. The Holy Father followed the meeting closely by satellite communication from the Vatican and spoke twice to the participants. He pointed out that ‘it is in the home where one learns to truly live, to value life and health, liberty and peace, justice and truth, work, concord and respect.’ ‘The true liberty of the human being comes from having been created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore should be exercised with responsibility, always opting for the true good so that it becomes love, gift of self.’ The Congress was attended by 12,000 people, the largest such Congress of any World Meeting of Families. Input focussed on family relations and family values, on sexuality and the educational vocation of the family. Speakers were theologians, bishops, lay representatives from dioceses and family movements, as well as experts in sociology, education and psychology from around the world. During the Congress, one session was a ‘Roundtable’ with presentations from each of six continents. Ron and Mavis Pirola of Sydney who are foundation Members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, spoke on behalf of Australia. Their talk emphasised the importance of focussing on the gifts as well as the needs of families and their evangelising potential. ‘Families need to be affirmed in this,’ said Mavis. ‘This includes single parent families who can be outstanding examples of courage and commitment in the face of adversity’. ‘Families also need to be affirmed for their role in the front line of a changing society,’ added Ron. ‘The lived experience of families provides insights into how to respond to a range of sensitive situations such as cohabitation, homosexuality and abortion. In handling these challenges, there can be wonderful compassion and respect for truth. As a Christian community, we can learn much from their experience.’ The Pirolas also spoke of the special gifts of families who have a member with disabilities. They provide one of the great lessons of life and their witness teaches us that each person is precious and wonderfully loved by God. This is a wonderful antidote to the utilitarianism of modern society. This was reinforced by Michael Waldstein on behalf of the USA and Canada, a father of eight children and a theologian. He described the progressive consequences of a shift to a self-centred lifestyle following the Second World War. This became manifest in all aspects of North American culture, including music and education with a lack of respect for authority and experience and a corresponding emphasis on doing what ‘feels good’. He spoke of the values of families drawing on their innate strengths and joining with like families to be countercultural. From the continent of Africa, Cardinal Christian Tumi described the African sense of family which extends far beyond the nuclear family. In his culture, nephews and nieces are treated as one’s own children. He recalled one day telling his mother that his relationship with her was different to that between him and his mother’s sister. His mother replied, ‘Now you are talking like a white man!’ The importance of prayer in the home was repeatedly emphasised. As the Holy Father said, the Christian home life should be ‘impregnated with the presence of God’ and open to prayer ‘in the family at the most appropriate and significant moments’. All Australian participants agreed that one of the most impressive aspects of the whole Gathering was the infectious enthusiasm and very warm hospitality of the Mexican families. For over a year they had been saying that they were waiting to welcome their guests and they expressed this beautifully in their smiles, their music, their attention to details in all the liturgies. Their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was especially evident and inspiring. The Saturday evening Festive Vigil was a joyous event – a ‘family party’ – with music, personal witness of family life and recitation of the Rosary in various languages. A highlight was a presentation by an Irish grandmother drawing attention to the unique role of grandparents in passing on the faith. She led the Gathering in a Prayer for Grandparents specially written by the Holy Father. The concluding Mass was again at the Basilica of Guadalupe, the world’s most visited Catholic shrine. Cardinal Bettone, Vatican Secretary of State, was the personal representative of the Holy Father and principal celebrant. Married couples renewed their marriage vows during the liturgy. The whole event concluded with the Holy Father speaking by satellite TV. Thanking all for their role in this ‘wonderful moment’, he announced that the 7th World Meeting of Families will be in Milan in 2012. The theme will be ‘Family: Work and Celebration’. Ron and Mavis Pirola