The speakers include cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and many lay men and women both single and married, the latter a necessary ingredient for any meaningful discussion of the family.
While there are a large number of Americans, this is an international gathering with other speakers from such places as Guinea, Canada, France, the Philippines, Columbia, Ghana, Argentina, Italy, Panama, the Netherlands, Mexico, Ecuador, China and the Holy Land.
It is an overwhelmingly Catholic group of course, but there are representatives of other people of God too. The list also includes speakers who are Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mormon, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim.
Finding experts willing to talk at the World Meeting of Families wasn’t the real challenge, it was accommodating people who were willing to speak in the program’s format. The program is based on “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the official catechesis and the theme for World Meeting of Families 2015, according to Dr. Mary Beth Yount, the director of content and programming for the World Meeting.
Yount herself is an associate professor of theology at Neumann University and an internationally known speaker and author on such topics as ethics, the theology of the family, parenting and education. She is also a married mother of four children.
Yount was one of the 10 writers contributing to “Love is Our Mission.”
Because the congress program is based on the catechism, the speakers were chosen as experts who could address specific topics from it, first through keynote talks then breakout sessions to follow.
The first keynote, on Sept. 22 from 2:30-3:30 p.m., is scheduled to be given by Father Robert Barron, rector of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, soon to be ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Bishop-designate Barron is best known as the founder of Word on Fire online ministry and as host of the award-winning documentary, “Catholicism.” His topic will be “Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love.”
“I was most excited about Father Barron,” Yount said. “He can make it all so real, in line with people’s experiences. He is also very positive. He is talking about the ways we are like God; in our intelligence and our hunger for good, our creativity and especially our ways to be in relationships.”
Another keynote speaker will be Cardinal Robert Sarah, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. His topic will be “The Light of the Family in a Dark World,” on Sept. 23 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
“He is talking about evangelization,” Yount said. “What does the Church mean in the world, what does the family mean in the world?”
Helen Alvaré, a professor at George Mason University, is a former Philadelphian and married mother of three. She has represented the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Holy See on matters concerning the family before the press, the United States Congress and the United Nations. Her keynote speech on Sept. 23 from 3 to 4 p.m. will address “Building a Just Society: Catholic Social Teaching in Your Life.”
She is best known for her defense of human life, and her presentation will explore the myriad implications of God’s linking love with new life — not only the love between a man and a woman, and between parents and children, but also the meaning of life.
Dr. Juan Francesco de la Guardia Brin and Gabriela N. de la Guardia, a keynote presenting couple from Panama, will address “A Gift from God: the Meaning of Human Sexuality” on Sept. 24 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. They are 35 years married and the parents of four.
Their presentation will combine theological and scientific data to explore how we know we are called to live in generous self-giving ways, whether we are married or celibate.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, will have as deliver his keynote topic, “The Family: A Home for the Wounded Heart,” on Sept. 24 from 3 to 4 p.m. He will discuss how everyone at some time struggles with painful situations, including loneliness, poverty, illness, disability and unemployment, and how we must walk together with each other for love and support.
A dynamic speaker, Cardinal Tagle has a popular weekly television show in the Philippines and more than half a million followers on Facebook. Presenting the final keynote talk on Friday, Sept. 25 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. is the duo of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, speaking alongside Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California. Their topic is, “The Joy of the Gospel of Life.”
The breakout session speakers cover a very wide range of topics. Just to mention a few:
* Christopher West, an expert on Theology of the Body, in a presentation to young adults will speak Sept. 24 from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. on “Desiring Infinite Love: Sexuality in the Divine Plan.”
* Curtis Martin, CEO of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, will speak Sept. 24 from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. on “What is New about the New Evangelization.”
* Dr. Gianna Emanuele Molla, for whom her mother, St. Gianna Molla, gave her own life by refusing to abort her child when she developed a deadly cancer, will share the dais with Dr. Karl Beiter and Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht on Sept. 24 from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. They will speak on “Out of the Depths I Cry to you, O Lord: The Heartbreak of Infertility.”
* Carolyn Woo, CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services, will speak Sept. 25 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on “Life is Good, Proclaiming the Love of Christ to the World.”
* Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, an immigrant from Mexico and Father Barron’s new ordinary, will address “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…” on Sept. 25 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. while denouncing the cruel impact of America’s broken immigration system on families and children.
* Suzy Ismael, who is Muslim, whose talk on Sept. 25 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. is titled “See the Other Side, an Interfaith Call to Service,” will explore how beliefs of all faiths can preserve the sanctity of marriage and encourage strong marriages and families.
* Scott Hahn, a convert to Catholicism and popular writer on religious matters, will speak Sept. 24 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on “Back to the Garden of Eden: Unearthing God’s Covenant with Humankind.” *Andrés and Kathia Arango will speak about “The Building Blocks and the Cornerstone: Building Familial Love through Everyday Practices” on Sept. 23 from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. Kathia is the director of the Office for Hispanic Catholics for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Andrés is the bishop’s delegate for Hispanic ministry and director of evangelization for the Diocese of Camden. They have twin daughters.
Because there are about 150 countries with delegates registered for the congress, most of the keynote talks will be delivered in English and have simultaneous translation into French, Italian, Spanish, Vietnamese and American Sign Language. The exception is Cardinal Tagle’s talk, which he will deliver in Italian; and the talk by Dr. de la Guardia Brin and his wife, delivered in Spanish.
Several breakout session talks will be delivered in various languages with translations.
At this point registration for the congress is in excess of 15,000, Yount estimated. While overseas registration has slowed, domestic registrations are still coming in and youth registrations are especially strong.
“We have a young adult lounge which I originally estimated would be 18-34. Because of the numbers I’ve had to bring that down to 18-24 and I may have to adjust it even further,” Yount said.
“The Youth Congress has grown by about one-third in the last two months with almost 30 activities. One of those is a Youth Café with music and speakers. We are still finalizing it and still lining up speakers. Ascension Press is sponsoring it.”
As for the World Meeting of Families as a whole, “I can’t imagine it going any better,” Yount said. “I did not think we would be at this point yet. It is an amazing event and it is the Holy Spirit working.”