On Saturday 23 October 2016, a special conference marking the Catholic Church’s celebration of family and family life took place in DCU Saint Patrick’s Drumcondra Campus in Dublin. Guest speakers included the co-chairs of the Council for Marriage and the Family of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin who, along with over 600 delegates, participated in a special event to formally launch preparations for the World Meeting of Families 2018 due to take place in Dublin.
Saturday’s conference was entitled “The Joy of Love, Amoris Laetitia and the World Meeting of Families in Ireland” and included over 600 representatives from Irish dioceses and parishes, and from abroad, as well as more than twenty organisations whose mission is to support the sacrament of marriage and offer pastoral outreach to families.
Drawing on key themes from Amoris Laetitia, the recent apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, the conference offered strong personal reflections on the joys and challenges of family life today, including on the experience of being a refugee family from Syria, of homelessness in Ireland and of the impact on families of various forms of addiction. The event also included prayer, audience interaction, video testimony, drama, music and singing.
In his address Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and President and host of the World Meeting of Families 2018 said, “My first hope for this event is that you, who represent families from across Ireland, will challenge the Church leadership and structures to take Amoris Laetitia seriously and to come up with concrete ideas for the renewal of marriage and family in our Irish Church and society.
“What can the World Meeting of Families do to help us in our path? It depends on how we wish to look on the Meeting. It could be a seven day wonder, a week of buzz and glitter and possibly even the joy of meeting with the Pope. But the World Meeting of the Families is not a sort of spiritual travelling Circus which moves around from city to city simply repeating the same performances.”
Archbishop Martin said, “Pope Francis spoke to me about the World Meeting of Families as a gift to the Irish Church. It should be a high point but a high point within a process: a process which should help us dispassionately to look to at the inadequacies of our pastoral work for families. You will remember that phrase: “We cannot enlighten reality without first having listened to it”. But we cannot be satisfied with simply listening: we have to enlighten also. Our listening should not be just at the negative.
“Let me say something about which I feel strongly: do not allow ourselves to be become entangled in trying to produce definitions of the family. Family is such a transcultural value that it cannot be defined simply. We may find it hard to define, but we all recognise what is family. We should not be rushing in telling people what to do, without first of all recognising what is great and beautiful and courageous in so many Irish families.
“Family is about love, no matter how imperfect and failing: it is about a love which enriches lives. I am thinking about the love of spouses, the love of parents for children. We have great families who would never think of themselves a great: they simply do their best. Where would any of us be without the love and generosity we received from our parents? That is not something old fashioned: it is something more necessary than ever. As we begin to get ready for the World Meeting of Families we should above all recognise what we ourselves and society owes to our families.
“Pope Francis’ idea is not that we will receive a gift to be placed in a glass-case for ourselves. He looks on the World Meeting of Families as a gift which the Irish Church can then share with others.”
Archbishop Martin concluded by saying, “When I think of the organizational challenges which the Word Meeting of Families places at my doorstep I shiver. But when I find myself at a gathering like this – yes I still shiver – but I realise also that together we will accept this gift and challenge of Pope Francis in such a way that he will be proud of us.”
Speaking about his hopes for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said, “One of my hopes is that we will develop Catholic family support groups at diocesan and parish level which might not only assist with marriage preparation, but also with supporting couples in the years immediately following marriage”.
Archbishop Eamon went on to say that, “In choosing Ireland to host World Meeting of the Families, Pope Francis has given a gift to our Church and our country which we have accepted with humility and openness to the graces that it can bring. My hopes for the World Meeting keep coming back to that word ‘connection’.
“Family is all about ‘connection’. Family connects us to a home, to ‘ar muintir fein’, the people who are our flesh and blood. It links us to a community, a parish, a county and an ever-expanding network of people and places. Family also connects us to a history and culture, a language and tradition, to our ‘DNA’, our roots, to our past, present and future. Family connects us to faith and values, to baptism and the community of believers. I pray that Ireland’s hosting of the World Meeting of Families will enable families to ‘connect’ and ‘re-connect’ at a whole variety of levels, both with each other and with the wider ‘family of families’ that is their Church.”
Last Saturday’s conference marked the start of the formal preparations for the 9th World Meeting of Families in Ireland, an international pastoral event which will take place in Dublin from 22 to 26 August 2018. Pope Francis has asked for the 2018 World Meeting of Families to take place in Dublin with the theme “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World”.
The World Meeting of Families takes place every three years, and is coordinated by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. Established by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1992 as a pastoral initiative, its aim is to strengthen the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe. The first World Meeting of Families took place in Rome in 1994, the International Year of the Family. Every three years since 1994, families from all over the world are invited by the Holy Father to attend this global gathering. During a World Meeting, families come together to share experiences, to dialogue, to pray and work together to grow as individuals and as family units. Delegates participate in discussion groups on the role of the Christian family in the Church and society, and are addressed by distinguished speakers. The eighth and most recent World Meeting took place in Philadelphia in September 2015.