From August 21 to 26, 2018, the 9th World Meeting of Families took place in Dublin (Ireland), directly connected with the visit of Pope Francis. During the first three days there was a Pastoral Congress, attended by about 37,000 people (including 6,500 under the age of 18), from 116 countries around the world and all the continents. On Saturday evening, the Congress was crowned by the Festival of Families, which gathered around 85,000 participants in the stadium. The Holy Father who had arrived in Ireland on Saturday morning, joined us in the evening at the stadium. The entire event ended with the papal Holy Mass in Phoenix Park on Sunday, attended by nearly 500,000 pilgrims. Earlier, in the morning hours, the Holy Father also visited the Knock Shrine, where he recited the Angelus prayer.
The time was as intense as it was rich in content, beautiful and deep in its message. "The joy of love, a joy for all God’s family. The joy of love transcending time and space. Our love for each other mirrors God the Father’s love. The joy of love, a joy for all the earth." This is the refrain from the official hymn of the meeting, whose beautiful melody resounded the whole time, in many different ways. The Holy Father invited families to look upon the Icon of the Holy Family, prepared especially for this meeting. Because when we look at it carefully, when we contemplate in concentration, already we are praying. And God speaks to us through this image and we answer. We are in a dialogue of love, in the circle of the Holy Family. Truly, prayer was the breath giving rhythm to the whole meeting.
During the three days of the Congress, 75 different presentations took place (in the form of conferences, lectures, workshops, testimonies, etc.). The subject matter was extremely rich and diverse. Amoris Laetitia, the Pope's Exhortation, was alive and present in almost all the offerings. Its content has become alive and relevant for concrete married couples, families, associations, and pastoral programs throughout the world. The testimonies of families from various parts of the world were also extremely poignant.
From the meeting flowed a strong and clear message - the family is to be strong in God! It is to be a place for the transmission of faith. And here the enormous role of parents as the first witnesses and teachers of faith. Also the role of grandparents and the whole extended family, the role of society. Because families themselves appealed for such an environment of faith. The Pope reminded us about the obvious and sometimes forgotten truth that the rebirth of the Church and the world can only come through good families realizing the dream of God.
And it is not that the family was shown idealistically, without real problems. On the contrary, the family was spoken about with all awareness of its fragility, weakness, and various breakdowns. But there is one ideal - Nazareth! The family strong in God, living with faith, fighting for faith, converting and finally seeking in faith ... Of course, in the pastoral care of the Church, marked by love and mercy, there is also a place for those who are far away from this ideal for various reasons.
I was strengthened in the conviction of the relevance and beauty of our charism. After all, we, Nazareth Sisters, are to look to the Holy Family and go with them to families. For what? To help the family to fulfill their vocation to holiness. We are to create such conditions, such an environment, to strengthen the family, confirm them on the right track, to help when they get lost ... We can do this in many ways! Through prayer, through the personal example of fidelity to our vocation, through various forms of the apostolate.
For the youngest participants of the meeting, a special "international village" was organized, where children played together, prayed together, and all under the supervision of a host of volunteers. For this occasion, Holy Father Francis has prepared a special catechism (YOUCAT for kids). Francis invited the parents to explore with their children the content of faith discussed in the catechism and to let the children ask questions, many questions! Copies of the catechism were given to all the participants of the meeting. The youth for whom other meetings, discussion groups and evening concerts were held were also not forgotten.
Saturday‘s Festival of Families at Croke Stadium was a real explosion of joy. Seven-hundred dancers danced to the sounds of lively Irish music! Flags of many nations fluttered. The arrival of the Holy Father was announced by endless applause. Francis, traveling in a small golf cart, slowly crossed the stadium. You could see great emotion on the faces of the people. And a great child-like joy, not only in the youngest participants of the meeting. The speech of the Holy Father was preceded by the testimonies of five families from different parts of the world. Difficult testimonies, but ones full of power flowing from faith. How carefully the Holy Father listened to each of them. When at the end of the evening, the over 80,000 people present, together with the artists, sang three times AMEN, the stadium shook. The joy of the Gospel for the world was heard!
The next World Meeting of Families in three years (2021) will be held in Rome. Let’s start getting ready now!