Remembering what our ‘mission’ is, we must take Pope Francis’ words to heart
By Marian Christiana
I have just returned from the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and I want to share a bit about our pilgrimage. Seventy-two pilgrims from our diocese traveled together by bus to all three separate components of the World Meeting of Families, the WMOF Congress, the Festival of Families and the Papal Mass. Every aspect of the WMOF was terrific, but the weekend events with Pope Francis were an experience of a lifetime.
Before I continue, I would like to publicly thank the team that helped me organize the pilgrimage. Karen Byrne works for the diocesan Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment, but only part-time. She also works for the diocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
It is an understatement to say that planning for the WMOF pilgrimage was a full-time job. I won’t list in detail all that Karen did for our trip, but I do want to say that Karen did a fantastic job juggling all of her normal day-to-day responsibilities while keeping all of the pilgrims informed, organized and well cared for. Lisa Morris was also on the leadership team for this pilgrimage.
Lisa was a volunteer for this adventure and handled many aspects of our WMOF trip, including all of our travel plans. She also kept us grounded spiritually while we were buried under planning details so we did not lose sight of the ultimate goal of growing closer to Christ.
This pilgrimage trip would not have been possible without these two wonderful women.
At a pilgrimage meeting with all participants a few weeks before we left, we discussed the details of our journey and reminded ourselves that we were “pilgrims, not tourists.”
This became our mantra as the inevitable inconveniences arose along the trip. We set the tone for our pilgrimage with a beautiful morning Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City concelebrated by our spiritual directors, Father Arthur Torres Barona and Father Colin Blatchford. We boarded the bus and reminded ourselves again that we were “pilgrims, not tourists.”
The air conditioning stopped working on one of our buses early on and we needed to make an unexpected stop in Virginia to try and get it fixed. While we ate lunch at a mall, one of our bus drivers took the bus to be worked on. He returned with what we thought was repaired air conditioning and we continued on our journey only to find that the air conditioning only worked when you first turned on the bus. The bus driver took the worst of the heat in his glass enclosed seat, so our driver decided to join us and become a “pilgrim, not a bus driver.” Many of us arrived as soaking wet “pilgrims, not tourists” and everyone on the pilgrimage was hungry and tired.
We attended the WMOF Congress on Thursday and Friday.
Both mornings began with our attending Mass at the Congress with thousands of other Catholics from around the world. In a sea of cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons, a few of us managed to find Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop James Vann Johnston for a photo opportunity. It was just one of the many amazing gifts members of our pilgrimage received.
My personal favorite breakout session was that given by Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle, archbishop of Manila. He spoke of unity in the mist of diversity. He emphasized the importance of learning each other’s stories to help us understand the other person and grow in unity through tolerance, not judgment. He pointed out that diversity exists even within our own families. He asked us to “not run to judgment, even with our own teens.
Everyone deserves to have their story heard.” He also discussed the importance of marriage preparation.
Cardinal Tagle stressed that all marriage preparation should include discussions on the family of origin of both the man and the woman.
He said that unity will be achieved only if the couple understands each other’s story and is tolerant of the differences. Yes, there can be unity and “opportunities for joy” in the midst of diversity but we have to be open to each other’s story and not rush to judgment.
During the Congress our pilgrims attended the keynote and breakout sessions, took time to volunteer with Catholic Relief Services, spent time in the eucharistic chapel and met people from all over the world.
A group of our pilgrims even found Father Michael Cummins, pastor of St. Dominic Church in Kingsport, who joined us for dinner on Thursday evening. On Friday afternoon we visited the Shrines of St. John Neumann and St. Rita of Cascia with our tour guide, Diana Von Glahn. Diana presented each pilgrim with a Philly pretzel in the shape of a knot in honor of Mary, Undoer of Knots. Some of our pilgrims managed to visit the Cathedral
Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and add their ribbons with their intentions to the thousands of other intentions tied there in honor of Mary, Undoer of Knots. Pope Francis blessed all of the intentions while visiting the Basilica on Saturday.
On Friday security began to tighten and the congress ended without the closing ceremony. Vendors had to close down early and the roads that were going to close in the evening began to close at noon. Our buses took many detours and the pilgrims had a long walk to dinner, but it all helped us remember that we are “pilgrims, not tourists.” It also prepared us for our adventures traveling into the Festival of Families on Saturday and the papal Mass on Sunday. Over the weekend we all wore orange ball caps that had the Vatican logo for the WMOF with the message that “Love is our mission.”
Those hats turned out to be a major blessing as we got swallowed up in a sea of humanity. We were easily spotted by each other once everyone settled down for the festival. The hats served as our guideposts as we all wandered around during the day and were a good reminder that love was our mission. As we waited for
Pope Francis, entertainment was enjoyed on big screens all over the parkway, but the coolest experience for me was to watch and participate in the praying that was happening all over the parkway. The entire area had a tangible feeling of peace over it. It was a beautiful experience and the main event hadn’t arrived yet!
The pope parades on both days were an experience unto themselves.
Many of our pilgrims, including me, got to be quite close to Pope Francis. The parade brought the best out in most people and I personally was privileged to be present at the curb when Pope Francis came by on Sunday. He blessed us while facing our side of the street to the thrill of us all. Many tears of gratitude and hugs with strangers were shared as we all experienced the gift of his blessing.
In Pope Francis’ homily at Sunday’s Mass he shared with us tangible ways about how we can all be prophets of Christ’s love and the joy of the Gospel starting with our own families.
He said, “… Faith opens a window to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus (cf. Mark 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters.
They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion, like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work — homely gestures. They’re also like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith. …”
In remarks before departing Philadelphia, Pope Francis encouraged us to remain pilgrims on our journey of growing closer to Christ and take his message into our hearts, sharing it with our slices of the world.
He said, “As I leave, I ask all of you, especially the volunteers and benefactors who assisted with the World Meeting of Families, do not let your enthusiasm for Jesus, his Church, our families, and the broader family of society run dry. May our days together bear fruit that will last, generosity and care for others that will endure! Just as we have received so much from God — gifts freely given us, and not of our own making — so let us freely give to others in return.”
And now I ask you to join me and the other members of our pilgrimage to take up Pope Francis’ call to be “prophets of the joy of the Gospel” starting with our own families, then moving to our parishes and beyond.
I ask you to join us as pilgrims in growing closer to Christ each day of our lives by sharing the love of God with each person we encounter… let us truly be “pilgrims, not tourists!”
Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.