Local pilgrims inspired, uplifted by first day at World Meeting of Families

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia holds up a bicycle custom made for Pope Francis during the opening ceremonies of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22. The bike, given by the City of Philadelphia, was to be presented to the pope during his visit. Photo: CNS/Jeffrey Bruno Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia holds up a bicycle custom made for Pope Francis during the opening ceremonies of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22. The bike, given by the City of Philadelphia, was to be presented to the pope during his visit. Photo: CNS/Jeffrey Bruno

PHILADELPHIA – Drawn by a desire to build up the family and a longing to be near Pope Francis, pilgrims from Western Washington traveled to Philadelphia this week to attend the Eighth World Meeting of Families.

The congress, with the theme “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” opened Sept. 22 and will conclude with the pope’s visit to Philadelphia Sept. 26-27.

The opening day featured a keynote address by Robert Barron, the popular writer, speaker and recently ordained auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, followed by a Mass concelebrated by dozens of priests and bishops.

Doris Lundgren, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bothell, said she was inspired by the international scope and overall atmosphere of the event. “I was just amazed at the people, the countries, the love,” she said.

Lundgren is part of the Archdiocese of Seattle’s official delegation of 16 pilgrims — including four women from the Yakima Diocese and one from Pasadena, California — to the World Meeting of Families. Another 31 pilgrims will fly out from Seattle for the weekend papal visit, when more than a million people are expected to attend a Sept. 27 Mass with Pope Francis on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

First in the U.S.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the World Meeting of Families has been held every three years since Pope John Paul II initiated it in 1994. This is the first gathering held in the U.S., and the largest ever, with more than 17,500 registered participants from more than 100 countries, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said at a press conference.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, noted at the press conference that this World Meeting of Families is occurring just a week before the Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome (Oct. 4-25) and will “doubtless have a great effect on the discussion of the bishops.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia spent more than three years preparing for the conference, which features six keynote addresses and 73 breakout sessions.

At the opening ceremony, Archbishop Chaput said: “It’s a very, very happy moment for me, to finally be able to say, after all of these months: Welcome to the World Meeting of Families 2015, and welcome to the city of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”

During the ceremony, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter presented a bicycle that was custom-made for Pope Francis, inspired by the pope’s call for environmentally sustainable forms of transportation.

main hall at World Meeting of FamiliesPeople gather in the main hall at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia before Bishop Robert Barron's talk on Sept. 22. Photo: Kevin Birnbaum

Making family the focus

Bishop Barron gave his opening address, “Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love,” in a massive hall at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. “The family is the place where we are taught to be priests, prophets, kings,” he said.

Later, Deacon Ray Biersbach, of Holy Rosary Parish in Edmonds, said he was moved to tears by Bishop Barron’s talk. “He got a standing ovation coming in and going out … and rightfully so,” Deacon Biersbach said. “That talk alone was worth the trip and the admission.”

The opening Mass began with a seemingly endless procession of priests and bishops, as the choir sang the conference’s official hymn, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom,” three times through — all six verses, with extended instrumental interludes.

In his homily, Archbishop Chaput pointed out the apparent irony of Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” It’s a good reminder that, as important as the family is, following Jesus comes first, he said.

The day was “uplifting,” said Father Tom Vandenberg, pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way, whose ministry has long focused on the sacrament of matrimony. “There’s a real longing on the part of the people to do something to strengthen the family and to make it better somehow,” he said.

In a hallway at the convention center, Vui Nguyen and her husband Tien Le met a cardinal and asked him for a blessing on their marriage. “He put his hands on both of our heads, so it was just a totally amazing day,” said Nguyen, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Seattle.

The day’s events inspired the couple to think about what is most important in their lives, especially their marriage and their seven children, she said: “The first day, we know that we’ve got to change the way we live our life, to make our family the focus.”

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Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.
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Kevin Birnbaum es el editor de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic y miembro de la Parroquia del Sagrado Sacramento en Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.