WINNIPEG — The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September attracted more than 18,000 people, including a group from the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, making it the world’s largest gathering of Catholic families.
They will never forget that joyous experience, and now their challenge is to share their new insights with their fellow parishioners and all the faithful of the archdiocese.
Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon invited those who attended the gathering to meet and share reflections of those four days, and talk about the present and future of the Catholic family.
The archbishop began by asking, “What was the World Meeting of Families like for you? What did you take away from it?”
“Just the sheer number of people, all valuing the importance of family,” said Rachel Suarez-Banmann. “I really appreciated that the whole family was encouraged to take part. It made me realize the value of family as the foundation of everything else.”
For Zalde Santos it was seeing so many people “who still believe in the essence and importance of family. The people who attended really wanted to fight for the family in a society where family is not always given importance, where even the idea of family is sometimes being attacked.”
“Everything starts in the family, “ said Joi Vasquez. “And when the family is happy, the community is happy, the world is happy and God is happy.”
Judith Vasquez couldn’t help but wonder why she and her husband were so fortunate. “How did God choose us to be in Philadelphia?” At the same time, as the trip approached, she worried about leaving her children. “My husband said God wants us to go because when you really serve, you serve uncomfortably.” In the end, she said, “we were so helped by our community.”
Monique Gauthier said it was the image of the wounded heart “that really stayed with me. All of the things that break us down, that prevent us from hearing God. There are so many families that could never come to Philadelphia; how do we take this back to them?”
Maui Zamora was at the World Meeting of Families with his wife Cheryl, who was in her eighth month of pregnancy with their third child, which they knew would be the case when they decided in February they would make the trip. “But we went, and we thought we’re here for a reason and we need to be hopeful, we’re bringing a new life into this world, and if we have a good relationship together, the stronger our marriage will be and the better for our children. It’s the first time we have left the kids for 10 days. Grandparents stayed with them and we could Skype with our daughters to pray every night, and we didn’t miss a night.”
Gagnon asked, “How can we help our families in the archdiocese? Pope Francis has said that everything is connected together in the family. When its spirit is wounded, the infection contaminates everyone.”
Monique said membership at her church has doubled “and they are Catholic in name but many of them are ‘unchurched.’ They want a baptism or a wedding and we can show mercy and provide sacraments but is that a disservice? Can we look at how we prepare for sacraments and how the family can get involved?”
“After confirmation nobody stays, even after RCIA, “ Zalde said. “What program can we enhance, how do we have an impact? Maybe the materials we give to them are not relevant anymore. How do we evangelize the men? That would lead to more family members staying in the church. We have adult catechism, but it’s mostly attended by women.”
“How can we plant a seed in a relationship of a husband and wife for them to share it with youth?” asked Maui. “If we have something like renewal of vows every five or 10 years, if youth see that, they will see that marriage is important.”
“If a family wants renewal you have to start with praying together as a family,” said Joi. His wife Judith agreed. “It’s not always solemn prayer, with a six-year-old maybe rolling around on the floor or shouting,” she said. “And even if we can’t always be together, we can be together in spirit. We can pray together wherever we are.”
“How do we involve parents in preparing children for sacraments, not just catechism?” asked Zalde.
Judith noted that a lot of churchgoers are not parishioners. “They’re not registered, so there is no commitment. We need to educate our church-goers that you should be registered. There is a lot of harvest possible, but workers are few.”
“We have a vibrant welcoming ministry and we require all who want sacraments to register,” said Rachel. “We want them to know ‘we’re a community and we want to know you.’ “
Gagnon pointed out that people are inundated by demands and they are leery about being taken advantage of, so they ask, ‘What do I get out of being a parishioner at this church? I’m a ‘roamin’ Catholic.’ ”
“They will gain a sense of community and love,” said Judith.
“It’s about a relationship with God and other Christians,” said Monique.
“We have a parish covenant,” said Rachel. “It states what we are offering to you as a parishioner our promise of what we will give to you, but also, this is what we need from you.”
“When we evangelize, we need to ask, ‘How can you help us?’ We’re all pieces of the puzzle,” said Judith. “And children must always be welcome. Crying children or running around, these are signs of life.”
“And all others must be welcomed,” said Rachel, “those with special needs, and single people.”
Gagnon expressed the hope that the gathering “might serve as the beginning of an ongoing discussion on the needs of Catholic families in the archdiocese.”