Cathedral rector Father Dennis Gill, right, unveils the painting of the Holy Family, executed by Kennett Square-based artist Neilson Carlin for the World Meeting of Families, as children and the congregation look on. (Sarah Webb)

Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated Mass Sunday evening, Sept. 7, and revealed the sacred image of the Holy Family and for the first time led the official prayer for the Eighth World Meeting of Families that will be held in Philadelphia on Sept. 22-27, 2015.

“The prayer and iconic image will inspire everyone as we continue to prepare for the 2015 World Meeting of Families,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement. “With the focus on enriching and reenergizing the spiritual life of families — both Catholic and non-Catholic alike — I’m hopeful that this prayer and image can help all of us to examine our minds and hearts and deepen our relationships with God and our families in meaningful ways.”

The official unveiling of the image in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia was done by some of the youngest members of the Church family of Philadelphia — students from John W. Hallahan and Roman Catholic high schools and St. Peter the Apostle School.

Neilson Carlin, the Kennett Square-based artist who painted the official four-by-five-foot canvas of the Holy Family that will symbolize the World Meeting of Families and remain enshrined in the cathedral, was presented to the congregation along with his family — wife Colleen and young children Finn, Moira and Eamonn.

(Read about Carlin in a profile story.)


Carlin explained some of the symbolic elements of the painting, with Jesus as a young child, not an infant, in the center. “Whenever you look, your eyes should go to the image of Christ who is looking at you and blessing you,” he said.

An interesting detail that he did not mention is one that is seldom seen in images of the Holy Family. In the background somewhat shadowed are SS. Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary, seeming to indicate that a family consists of more than the nuclear unit of adults and their children.

Also presented to the congregation was Dr. Christopher Roberts, who was the principal author of the preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families, titled “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” It was written specifically for the meeting in conjunction with the meeting’s sponsor, the Pontifical Council for the Family, and has been published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Roberts, whose doctoral thesis focused on the theology of marriage, has taught on the topic at Villanova University.


The catechism “is a great gift to the Church,” Archbishop Chaput said. “I assure you it is going to renew our families. That means the whole church will be renewed.”

During his homily at the Mass, which was integral to the event, he returned to the theme of family.

“The church understands the family as the first church,” he said. “We learn from our parents how to be members of the church. Parents are the first teachers of our children of everything, even matters of faith.”

The family, he said, “is a school of love. If we don’t learn to love in our family, we don’t love anywhere.”

Following the Mass, the archbishop unveiled the official prayer of the World Meeting of Families, which was then recited by the congregation, who were also encouraged to recite it daily.

A final act was the blessing of catechists who will visit the various parishes of the archdiocese to promote participation in the World Meeting of Families.

Some parishes are already getting a head start. Father Efren Esmilla, who attended with a group of his parishioners from Our Lady of Hope Parish in North Philadelphia, said, “we are definitely excited about this. It will mean a lot to our families. We are doing a lot of Marriage Encounter in our parish, and the World Meeting of Families will be a great help.”

A sacred painting that prominently features Jesus as a child should resonate especially at Father Esmilla’s parish, which was formerly known as Holy Child.

Donna Farrell, executive director for the WMF, observed, “It’s an exciting day. We worked so hard and now we have a cathedral filled with so many people eager to see the icon and pray the prayer, although I have to tell you we have been praying it in our office every day and it is in 18 languages on our website.

“They say the world is coming to Philadelphia in 2015. I think they have already arrived based on our email and phones.”

Also participating in the ceremonies was Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre who has general oversight of the planning for the event.

The entire evening was filmed for posterity by History Making Productions, an enterprise of Sam Katz, a former political leader and now businessman but always a Philadelphia booster.

View photos and video from the mass.


Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.