By Sr Clement Doran
I am very happy to share with you some personal reflections on the World Meeting of Families, hosted by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in August. Thankfully, it coincided with my visit to our retired priests in Ireland and my holidays, and the fact that my sister was a volunteer at all the events was a bonus.
These observations do not aim to set out a summary of this significant celebration or an assessment of the event, just some memories that will stay with me for a long time. The first thing that stood out for me was not so much a multitude of words about family life but above all else the witness of the many families I met in Dublin last month. They came from everywhere; they came in all shapes and sizes.
We met in queues and in coffee shops. Across the road the Poor Clare Sisters opened their doors to everyone and families came and went in silence to their tiny Chapel. I went to pray but found myself distracted watching parents showing their children how to bless themselves and be silent in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
At times I had to think about where I was, as there were so many Westminster people mulling around. Cardinal Vincent, Bishop Nicholas Hudson, Arbhbishop Bernard Longley from Birmingham, Bishop Mark O’Toole from Plymouth were also there with their groups, as were bishops and staff from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, all engaging with families. It was such a joy to have personal encounters with parents, children and grandparents: just human sharing in the warm and safe environment of faith in Dublin.
Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines, in his presentation captured in his own words the humanity of the event and the good humour of this graceful gathering. His talk managed to link issues with the lived experience of the families in their local communities in Ireland and further afield. Each day the liturgies were celebrated beautifully, the music was reflective and uplifting, and the participation of the people inspiring. Bombay Archbishop Cardinal Gracias’ message was: ‘Families can learn much from the life of the Church and at the same time The Church has a lot to learn from families, about how to be welcoming and compassionate.’
Each day speakers reflected on the World Meeting of Families theme, ‘The Gospel of The Family, Joy for The World’, chosen by Pope Francis, with workshops, talks, testimonies and discussion programmes for young people and fun activities for the children.
On Saturday 25th August the gathering moved to Croke Park for the Festival of Families in the presence of Pope Francis. It was breath-taking in its atmosphere and content. The Holy Father gave a powerful catechesis on family and faith. For one moment, it seemed that he was our local priest, a kindly priest sharing his wisdom and pastoral experiences with enthusiasm and joy. What none of us knew while listening to his address was that the Holy Father had come directly to the Festival of Families after ninety minutes with survivors and sexual abuse victims. The following day Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Phoenix Park bringing the World Meeting of Families to a close.
A highlight for me was to see to see Bishop Pat O’Donoghue, a former Auxiliary Bishop of this diocese and Bishop Emeritus of Lancaster, whom I had visited in hospital the week before in Cork. He had recovered and travelled on a coach from Cork early that morning, sitting in his wheelchair in the front row. Another highlight was seeing my own Bishop Richard Moth from Arundel and Brighton with his group of pilgrims.
The gathering of families was a tangible experience of ‘love in the heart of the Church’ and a reminder that, wherever our families gather in faith, the heart of the Church beats with love.