PHILADELPHIA (CCN) — Most of the 500 or so Toronto pilgrims and more than 1,000 Canadians in Philadelphia showed up for the last two days of the papal visit to see the pope. A smaller, hard core of dedicated family activists and advocates formed part of the 18,000 who attended the weeklong World Meeting of Families.
They attended seminars, listened to speakers, engaged in debates, collected hundreds of pages of pro-family Catholic literature, exchanged email addresses with people they met and formulated new programs, new goals and new insights.
The delegates who made the trip to Philadelphia and stayed all week are people who already lead strong, faith-filled families, conceded Teresa Hartnett, director of family ministry for the Diocese of Hamilton. The World Meeting of Families delegates were there to indulge their passion, she said.
“If you love baseball you go to baseball games. If you love music you go to concerts. If you play the piano you like to hear someone who plays it better than you,” she said. “Here you have a crowd where everyone shares a similar belief. They’re here to be uplifted, to be reminded that they’re not alone.”
For Hartnett, the World Meeting of Families, another big festival of Catholic life inaugurated by St. Pope John Paul II, is almost a professional obligation. But she would be there whether it related to her job or not.
Hartnett has gathered ideas and is formulating plans. She’s going to ask Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby about forming a diocese-wide committee with representation from all the deaneries that would review and ensure every parish in the diocese has effective and well-publicized programs and services serving families.
The speakers, workshops and seminars have been an opportunity for Hartnett to step back from the daily grind and see what else might be possible in family ministry.
“It’s that thing where you’re stuck in your own thing in little Hamilton diocese — not stuck, but those are the people you associate with. Now you come and you see a million people here, 20,000 at the World Meeting of Families, and it makes you realize we are strong. The faith is not weak, as the press would like us to believe,” she said.
For Calgary mother Sara Francis, attending the World Meeting of Families with her husband, Ben, was a week worth making sacrifices for. She’s long been an admirer of authors such as Christopher West, Scott Hahn, Bishop-elect Robert Barron and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. But nothing tops the pope.
“I was encouraged when Pope Francis said Christianity is not a subculture that should only be observed in the private realm,” said Francis. “I find sometimes it can be difficult to live out my Catholic faith in the public sphere in our secularized culture. His words gave me much strength for when I return home.”
Though he came for the family issues, that didn’t mean Ryan Wilson from Prince George, B.C., wasn’t ready to hear the pope speak about immigration, globalization and religious freedom.
“The reaffirmation of the absolute need for religious freedom as an integral part of human life” was a key moment, Wilson said in a text to The Catholic Register. “Secondly, he stated the importance of accepting immigrants into the fabric of the country with love and in a spirit of peace.”
Finally, Wilson’s ears opened when the pope spoke on behalf of smaller and traditional cultures drowning under a wave of economic globalization.
“He stressed that globalization done in a way which minimizes or marginalizes any of the human family is a bad pursuit,” Wilson said. “Rather, globalization has to be done in an inclusive manner.”
Hartnett found encouragement at the conference for women to take their place in the church, to see the Catholic Church as their natural home rather than a structure controlled by men.
“I think for a lot of women here, the message is an empowering one,” she said. “We often talk about what we don’t have in the church. We can’t be priests, we can’t be preachers. But the message here today is that your role is, in some ways, more powerful than that role because we generate life. Our beginning brings them to God. God entrusted us with something fairly powerful. When you focus on that, you see that you have a role, maybe not the role people talk about, but we do have a very important role.”
In 2018 the World Meeting of Families will be in Dublin, Ireland. No doubt, many of the same Canadians will be there.