Today was the final day of the World Meeting of Families. The congress seemed to get busier as the week went on, perhaps as people came to do just a day or two of the meeting, and be in Philadelphia for the papal weekend. At the beginning of the week, congress attendees were invited to participate in a record-breaking mural project, The Sacred Now: Faith and Family in the 21st Century, in which over 2700 people helped paint. By today, the mural was nearing completion, ready for Pope Francis to paint the final brush stroke.
There was a real buzz about the convention centre as people did last minute shopping at the official store and in the exhibitors hall, people gathered around big screens to follow Pope Francis’ visit, and headed to the main hall for the final keynote talk, “The Joy of Gospel Life”, which was delivered by Pastor Rick Warren and Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
As we made our way to the final breakout session, I caught a glimpse of Archbishop Chaput officially closing the conference. I had a heavy heart, as the week had been so inspiring and a time of spiritual renewal. The final breakout session I attended was perfect one to end the congress on- Family Ties: How Meals, Rituals, Traditions, Worship and Prayer Create Strong, Healthy and Joy-Filled Catholic Homes. The session was led by Lacy Rabideau of Catholic Icing. She spoke about living the liturgical year, and creating Catholic traditions and experiences that would weave into family life, so that Church was not something ‘separate’. For some people, the only Catholic part of their week is attending Mass on Sunday, therefore they only have to stop attending Mass to stop being Catholic, Lacy observed. She suggested that if the Catholic faith, with its prayers, songs, traditions, with baking and crafting and pilgrimages, was woven into their lives like a tapestry, once children became older, it would be harder to stop being Catholic as it would be such a large part of their lives. It was an interesting session which gave me lots of ideas to being living more liturgically and weaving the faith into our own lives.
There were many “off-shoot” events running throughout the week, such as the World Meeting of Families film festival, the Museum of the Bible exhibit from Rome, a plethora of talks, a pro-life evening organised by Priests for Life and the 40 Days for Life kick off, as well as the opportunity to venerate the major relics of Saint Maria Goretti, daily confession and round-the-clock adoration. We didn’t make it to any of these events. Nor did we do any sightseeing! Most days, we left the house at 9am and didn’t get back until at least 6pm, so our days were packed enough!
As I wandered around the Conference Centre for the last time, I found myself wondering where then next World Meeting of Families would be. Before coming on this trip, I had thought of the World Meeting as something we might do a few times, but after experiencing one, I would like to make the effort, God willing and circumstances permittig, to attend the Meeting as often as possible.
Although sad the congress is now over, it has been a week of rich catechesis, of encounters with other families, of ideas and inspiration. I return home with a new energy to share and experience the faith in our small family, our community and with the world. And, although the talks and catechesis are over, the World Meeting is not yet quite finished. Tomorrow, Pope Francis will arrive in Philedelphia and will be present at the Festival of Families, and will celebrate the closing Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday.