In less than two years — exactly 22 months — the Church in Philadelphia will host the Eighth World Meeting of Families. Aside from a press conference last year and the kind public support of Governor Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter, so far the event has seemed well over the horizon; something to pleasantly daydream about without too much anxious detail.
That’s about to change. Earlier this week, two key hires occurred related to the event. While each new “World Meeting of Families” is the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the local community handles much of the planning and execution. So it will be here in Philadelphia. I’m very pleased that Mrs. Donna Farrell has agreed to serve as executive director of all locally based efforts for the event, and Mr. Jack O’Brien will assist her as director of event services. Both will report to the board of directors of the independent “World Meeting of Families — Philadelphia” entity which is already in action.
Starting in December, the pace of planning for the meeting — outreach to community leaders, the formation of programming teams, etc. — will sharply increase. And while the Vatican never announces the travel commitments of a Pope until much closer to an event, we definitely hope and pray that the Holy Father will join us in September 2015. Whatever happens, the World Meeting of Families will be a major highpoint in the life of our archdiocese and our city.
Pope Francis clearly has a heart for ordinary people. For most persons, family issues figure heavily in their sense of purpose, their happiness or their distress. But in our day, marriage and the family face a wide range of moral, legal, social and economic challenges. Even their definition is a matter of dispute.
It’s no surprise then that Pope Francis has called an extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops next year, in October 2014. The assembly will examine the popular reception of Church teachings on marriage and the family, assess the problems of putting them into practice, identify which teachings are most criticized and ignored, and consider how best to communicate them. The findings of this extraordinary assembly will set the stage for another general assembly of the Synod of Bishops the following year, in 2015, which will focus on pastoral strategies and guidelines for dealing with marriage and family issues.
To get ready for the 2014 extraordinary assembly, Rome sent a document to all dioceses worldwide (see it posted here) reflecting briefly on the nature of marriage and the family, and the current pressures facing both. It invited bishops to respond to a series of nine pastorally related questions and to consult widely in developing their replies. The responses will help shape the extraordinary assembly’s agenda and discussions next October.
Rome has stressed that this process of consultation is not a referendum on the truth of Catholic teaching. But it will be a good tool in naming the problems that interfere with a strong Christian marriage and family, and in making the Church’s message more effective.
At my request, we’ve posted an online questionnaire here. The questionnaire items have been modified somewhat, without changing the intent of the original Roman document, in order to make them more accessible to everyday lay Catholics. I ask you to please take the time to fill out and submit the online questionnaire before December 2, because your answers will have a direct effect on the report I send to the Vatican next month.
Equally important, your responses will be enormously valuable as we begin developing the content for the 2015 international gathering of families in Philadelphia. So your thoughts and concerns matter to our local Church in a very practical way.
Please keep Pope Francis in your prayers as he deals with these sensitive issues. And please pray as well for the great adventure that lies ahead: the World Meeting of Families.