WMOF 2015: Personal Reflections on the Theological Pastoral Congress

1 October 2015
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1 October 2015, Comments: Comments Off on WMOF 2015: Personal Reflections on the Theological Pastoral Congress

WMF15 Exhibition HallThe Theological Pastoral Congress of the 8th World Meeting of Families was held from Tuesday 22nd to Friday 25th September at the Pennsylvania Conference Center in Philadelphia. Participants were invited to a number of keynote speeches including presentations by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and Professor Helen Alvare and were offered the choice of over 70 break-out sessions on a wide range of issues affecting the family.  These sessions were led by  academics, theologians and practitioners from different cultural and faith backgrounds. Following are some personal reflections by members of the English and Welsh delegation on the sessions they attended:

“The break-out sessions were stimulating and yet frustrating as there were often difficult choices to be made over which one to attend. The question and answer sessions at the end of each highlighted the real pain that some families experience and their deep desire to be more affirmed and supported by their Church.”

JW's-Love-photo“In the session: How Precious Is the Family: Advice from Pope Francis on How to Love, Alejandro Bermudez, Joseph Loehr, Gina Loehr, and Rabbi Abraham Skorka – four panellists who know Pope Francis, gave an input on their impressions of the man and what they had learnt from him in respect of family life. The one that caught my attention was Rabbi Skorka, a Jewish friend of the Pope from his life in Argentina. He and the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires engaged in regular dialogue on ‘how to love’, and ‘how precious the family is.’ They spoke together from their hearts and these conversations continue today. Skorka affirmed that the Pope is ‘very consistent and lives what he speaks,’ with Christ as his guide.’ Together they discovered many parallels in biblical and rabbinical visions of family life, and the influence of family across generations. The Q&A session came alive with the first voice from the audience speaking of their sense of exclusion from the Catholic family. The Rabbi responded: ‘We must take our lead from Pope Francis and not reduce this to something abstract.  The question (of exclusion) belongs to us all’.  He went on to say that the whole church must discover the essence of the Gospel and live it more authentically. We must invite people who feel on the edge into dialogue.”

“In her break out session entitled: Loving the Elderly, Dr Janet Smith spoke with great warmth and humour about life as BAD (Beleaguered Ageing Daughter) with her BAM (Beloved Aged Mother). Her Mother is living with Alzheimer’s disease and Dr Smith is her principal carer. Illustrated by a series of anecdotes from BAD and BAM’s life together, Dr Smith shared the joys and sorrows of their relationship and gave the audience some practical tips that were helping her to maintain her relationship with BAM despite being BAD. It provoked laughter and tears in equal measure from myself and others around me, many of whom evidently had personal experience in similar circumstances.”

WMF15 Break Out SessionIn his session: Home Improvement: Forgiveness and Family Life, Dr. Daniel Mark, a Jewish professor of political science, explored practical ideas around forgiveness from the Jewish and Christian traditions. He spoke candidly about the struggles of family life, the endless sacrifice of parents and the web of family relationships so often riddled with burden and betrayal. He described the lifelong commitment of parents as a ‘dying of self’ which mirrors Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross. Unlike public and political life family life is defined by sacrificial love and mutual self giving, not by justice or the negotiation of rights and responsibilities. But loving each other unconditionally leads to our own resurrection as families. Through this exchange of forgiveness and mercy we are able to become the ‘best versions of ourselves.’ Dr Mark reminded us that families are where we first learn how to love, how to forgive and how to be good and truthful.  Parents need the Church to model this love and support them in their critical role as primary educators of their children.  The Sacraments are a source of lessons on love, forgiveness and truth and come with the promise of Christ’s unconditional support.”

Holy Family Iconic Painting WMF Philadelphia By Neilson Carlin

Holy Family Iconic Painting for the World Meeting of Families 2015

“I felt that the true meaning of mercy was best described by Daniel Mark in his session on family forgiveness. He said that it is within the family that unconditional mercy is shown and which opens the door to reconciliation between family members. Dr Mark recognised that this is not an easy task because it can be as difficult to receive forgiveness as to offer it, particularly if we do not recognise that we have done wrong.”

“Most of the sessions had common themes running through them; parents as the primary faith educators, true and meaningful faith being caught not just taught, home and family as the domestic church and life lived involving many hurts as well as joys.  I actually felt that the majority of the sessions affirmed the work we already do in our own diocese as well as a national network of Marriage & Family Life Ministry with the CBCEW.”

The lost sheep is my own. If it cannot come home, I will carry it home.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle speaking at the World Meeting of Families

“It was often difficult to decide what to select from the range of topics on offer but after hearing Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s keynote speech on the wounded heart I changed my plans in order to attend his breakout session: Mission **possible: Reaching Out to Others in Authentic and Effective Ways. He did not disappoint and in the process made us laugh and cry and delighted us by good naturedly bowing to a request to sing ‘A House is Not a Home’ (a song written by Burt Bacharach) that he had referenced in his keynote the day before. In this breakout Cardinal Tagle challenged us to be aware of our own culture and how it influenced us to make judgements about others. He also told us that children needed to learn how to ‘dialogue’ in the home, reinforcing the message of an earlier presentation by the Atkinson family which emphasised the importance of developing good relationships with our children.”

“In one session I was reminded of our Celebrating Family work in England and Wales when I heard the pastor talk about how it is in the daily business of our ordinary lives, getting our children fed at breakfast time, that we are living our vocation. The theme of this World Meeting of Families was ‘Love is Our Mission’ and it was good to be reminded of our Home is a Holy Place resource and that feeding hungry children at breakfast is a not insignificant manifestation of love.”

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