Once describing the Christian family as “the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society,” St. John Paul II launched the World Meeting of Families (WMF) in 1994 to bring families together from all over the world to dialogue and pray about ways to strengthen their bonds.
Every three years since, the event has been held at the Holy Father’s invitation—in Italy, Brazil, Philippines, Spain and Mexico—and next year, for the first time, it will be held in the United States when hosted in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27, 2015. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Denver’s shepherd from 1997 to 2011 and now head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, is a primary organizer of the event.
“The mission of the World Meeting of Families: to show the joy of authentic family life to the world, and to invite others from around the world to share in it,” he wrote in an invitation last March. “(It’s) an opportunity for renewal that comes once in a lifetime.”
The event is expected to draw thousands, and if Pope Francis attends, more than 1 million. Archbishop Chaput has frequently shared his confidence that the Holy Father will attend based on personal conversations with him.
“There’s never any guarantee that the pope will attend until the Holy See officially confirms it. That usually happens about six months in advance,” Archbishop Chaput told America magazine Aug. 11. “But we’re confident at this point that he intends to come if circumstances allow.”
The 2015 meeting is unique in that it is nestled between two Vatican assemblies of the world’s bishops. In October 2013, Pope Francis announced there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family and evangelization Oct. 5-19, 2014. That will be followed by an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4-25, 2015, on the same topics, creating an unofficial year of the family.
“Marriage and family are obviously on (the pope’s) mind because he called the extraordinary and ordinary synod,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The country is currently absorbed in an ongoing debate about the nature of sexuality, marriage and family life, so (the pope’s) support for the Christian vision of marriage and family would have a ripple effect.”
Specifically, the synod discussions are expected to focus on pastoral responses to divorce, cohabitation, same-sex marriage, along with other challenges to the family. A 2008 Census Bureau survey showed fewer Americans are married today: 55 percent of males and 50 percent of females (age 18-plus), while the divorce rate is estimated to hover around 40 to 50 percent. From 1990 to 2008, the number of cohabitating households (partners of the opposite sex living together without being married) more than doubled, according to the Pew Research Center. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. And more babies are born to unwed mothers than ever before, with unmarried women accounting for 41 percent of births in 2011, up from 5 percent in 1960.
“We’ve never needed healthy families more urgently than now,” said Archbishop Chaput, adding that families are also challenged by “addictive consumption of goods,” debt and parents working more. “Families have no time to be a family.”
To help prepare for the WMF, a preparatory catechesis document “Love is Our Mission—the Family Fully Alive” was released Sept. 16.
“The catechesis … will help parish and diocesan leaders, catechists and other interested persons prepare Catholics across the globe for next year’s meeting,” Archbishop Chaput said at a Vatican press conference Sept. 16.
He also presented the Pontifical Council for the Family with an iconic painting of the Holy Family, with the Blessed Mother’s parents, Anne and Joachim, commissioned for the WMF. The theme of the meeting is “Love is Our Mission: the Family Fully Alive.”
The Archdiocese of Denver is expected to organize a pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the meeting. Details will be announced as they are available. For more information, visit www.worldmeeting2015.org.
The World Meeting of Families 2015 Official Prayer
God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
you have made us your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.
May your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.
May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially those most troubled,
to be homes of communion and prayer
and to always seek your truth and live in your love
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!