Pilgrims ‘had the wonderful privilege to be part of a weeklong celebration . . . with people from all over the world’
By Marian Christiana
Our Diocese of Knoxville pilgrimage group had the wonderful privilege to be part of a weeklong celebration of faith and family with people from all over the world. It is hard to put into words the excitement that was in the air. You could hear people speaking in different languages as you walked around the Congress, the Festival of Families, and the final Mass, but we were all there for the same reason, to celebrate our faith with other Catholics and with Pope Francis. The vitality of the event was contagious. I left re-energized and reaffirmed that family life is holy—messy—but holy.
Messy is a real understatement when we start talking about the families that have been hurt by the sexual-abuse crisis. Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland came at a time when the Pennsylvania attorney general released a report on sexual abuse scandals in Pennsylvania. Ireland, already hurting from its own abuse scandals, was looking to Pope Francis for help with the healing process.
Pope Francis did not shy away from the topic, although some say he did not go far enough with his comments. On his arrival, Pope Francis spoke to about 250 Irish political, civil, and religious leaders at the 700-year-old Dublin Castle and said that he was “very conscious of the circumstances of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education.” He then said that “The failure of ecclesiastical authorities: bishops, religious superiors, priests, and others adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly risen to outrage.”
He continued to lift up the abuse victims in prayer throughout his visit, but for me the most meaningful acknowledgement of the abuse crisis came during the opening prayer of the closing Mass on Sunday. The day before, Pope Francis had met with eight survivors who had suffered abuse of power and sexual abuse. He referenced that visit and wanted to place before the mercy of the Lord these crimes and ask forgiveness for them.
Pope Francis then began with a litany of petitions, asking forgiveness for the Church’s actions. First, he asked for forgiveness for the acts themselves and the lack of compassion shown toward the survivors. He asked for forgiveness for the clergy, men and women religious, and the hierarchy that did not take charge of the situations, as they should have. Lastly, he asked for forgiveness for all of those times those in authority told single mothers in Ireland it was a mortal sin to search for their children who had been sent to orphanages, and for the times children trying to find their mothers were told the same thing. Pope Francis emphatically stated, “These are not mortal sins.” Cheers went up after each request for forgiveness. It was incredibly moving to be a witness to this powerful moment.
While the abuse crisis was definitely a serious topic at the World Meeting of Families, it was by no means the primary focus. The meetings, gatherings, and celebrations all reflected Church teachings focusing on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” and it was clear how important family life is in the formation of all of us. The Festival of Families event, the night before the papal Mass, was delightful. Pope Francis described the event as “a family celebration of thanksgiving to God for who we are: one family, in Christ, spread throughout the world.”
The excellent entertainment was interspersed with the testimonies of five families representing Ireland, Canada, India, Iraq, and Africa. The families spoke on topics that focused on forgiveness, hope, and technology, as well as the importance of grandparents. All of the families shared how much the love and support of their families helped them through their most difficult challenges. Pope Francis thanked them for their testimony and said “God wants every family to be a beacon of the joy of His love in the world. All of us are called to find, in the family, our fulfilment in love.” He quickly added, “No one said it would be easy.”
The fact that it is not always easy to be a loving family helps to make the good times all the sweeter. In past articles, I have written about the impact of our families of origin on our married lives. We bring into our marriages a combination of each: the family’s messiness as well as each family’s holiness. We may not always recognize the moments of holiness while we are living them. One day our Ireland pilgrimage took us to the Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, Memorial Centre in Ballina. Father Peyton is famous for his slogan “The family that prays together stays together.”
Father Peyton was particularly dedicated to the Blessed Mother. During the 1950s, he started the Prayer Crusades and encouraged every family to pray the rosary together. He was the founder of “Family Rosary” and “Family Theatre.” He staged hundreds of radio and television shows with many of the famous movie stars of Broadway and Hollywood taking part. I grew up in Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s.
As I walked into his center the large rosary beads hanging on the wall instantly struck me. My father had made one the exact same size for our home. We prayed the rosary together as a family using our large rosary in our home but also in our car. We called it the “Freeway Rosary.” We thought that was very fitting since our car was always breaking down. Our “Freeway Rosary” was made of pink plastic and had a very distinct aroma to it. My father was a dental technician by trade and had made the rosary out of spare plastic used to make false teeth! Many happy memories of my family of origin and our “Freeway Rosary” came flooding back to me. I realized that those memories were moments of holiness and helped us through the more difficult times. I also realized that, because of my family of origin experience, each of our children had a special rosary next to their bed while they were growing up that we used during times of trial.
My big takeaway from attending the World Meeting of Families 2018 is that every family is a combination of holiness and messiness. We are not all good or all bad. We need to be patient with each other, love one another, and stay grounded in Christ. Together, whether we are talking about our individual family or our church family, we can get through anything.
Marian Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.