What does the World Meeting of Families Mean to You?

 

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The three day Pastoral Congress kicked off on Wednesday at the RDS in Dublin, ahead of the Papal visit over the weekend.  It’s been a hive of activity with international visitors pouring in. An estimated 37000 people from across the globe were anticipated and although final numbers are not in, we have no doubt the estimates are accurate.

The congress is reflecting on “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World”, and this message is clearly evident by the different stands, exhibitions and displays.  There are an almost overwhelming number of workshops, presentations and discussion panels across a range of topics.  Unfortunately it’s impossible to attend them all, but they are being well covered by the Catholic media, and on social media, so it’s easy to get a flavour of what they’re all about.  Interestingly, the majority of speakers are lay people, with the largest representation being lay women.

Children and teens are not to be forgotten, with the Global Village and YOUCAT programmes keeping them entertained, educated and spiritually enriched.

The Missionary Sisters of our Lady of Apostles shared a stand with our brothers from The Society of African Missions.  Sisters and Brothers from all over the world managed the stand at any given time, chatting to members of the public about our faith, our mission and a myriad other topics.

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It’s been a heart warming experience, connecting with one another and with the public.

As communications officer for OLA, I explored with wide eyed wonder the many exhibitions, demonstrations and products on display.

I was also interested in finding out what drew people to the congress. The exhibitors were all here for a reason, and although those reasons were varied, they were obvious.  This is a family event and obviously, the focus is on family, but even given this, the lay person’s reasons for attending were not so blatantly transparent, and so I chatted with them and asked them the questions directly, “What is your reason for visiting the World Meeting of Families, and what do you hope to gain from this experience?” Some of those I asked were children and so the questions were simplified somewhat, but the responses were no less interesting. (First names and nationality published with permission)

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“I have always wanted to attend the World Meeting of Families, the fact that it was in Ireland this year is what made us finally book it. I’m here with my husband and we are both involved with marriage counselling work in Nebraska, USA.  I’m most interested in the panel discussions on marriage, as well as those on the influence of technology on family life.” (Susan, Nebraska, USA)

“I am 9 years old and I am excited to be here with my family. I want to pray for my family, mostly for my grandmother who is sick.  I like to attend mass with people from all over the world. I wrote a prayer for the wall in the prayer room and I hope that God will answer me.” (Yiorgos - 9yrs, Athens, Greece)

“It’s such a blessing for me to be here.  I am a theology student and I’m interested in attending as many presentations as possible, especially those to do with faith and vocation. I will also be attending mass each afternoon and of course, the highlight of the week, the mass on Sunday. It has only been a couple of hours and already it has been a fulfilling experience for me.” (Andre, Lyons, France)

“Quiero una muñeca el Papa.” (Lucia – 3 yrs, Spain) – Translation: I want a Pope doll. 

“We have travelled from Austria with our Youth Group to attend. We are learning much from the international community and speaking with other young Catholics.  It is a difficult time to the Catholic Church and we feel that we would like to make a difference.” (Fitz – 17yrs, Hallstatt, Austria)

“We’re retired and were on vacation in Ireland. We decided to visit and see what it was all about.  It’s been really interesting to see the very active participation, and quite surprising to the see the number of young religious. We hadn’t planned on coming, but we’re glad we did.” (Alan, New Jersey, USA)

I spoke to many other people from as far afield as Australia, and even Fiji, and across the age spectrum.  Young and old have made this pilgrimage for varied reasons and I’m sure that no-one will leave disappointed.