Dena Simpson, organizer of the St. Paul study group, participates in a study session. (Sarah Webb)

Dena Simpson, organizer of the St. Paul study group, participates in a study session May 5. (Sarah Webb)

One of the ways it is recommended that parishes prepare for the World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia Sept. 22-25 is through catechism programs based on “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the official catechesis of the World Meeting of Families.

Exactly how many parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese are doing this is impossible to say, because many who are studying the catechesis do not report it, according to Meghan Cokeley, director of the Office for the New Evangelization, and not all are doing identical programs.

St. Paul Parish in South Philadelphia is taking a two-pronged approach.


First, it has been devoting a full page in its parish bulletin to the monthly reflection on one of the 10 chapters of “Love is Our Mission” prepared by Christopher Roberts, the catechism’s editor.

Second, there is a monthly evening study group discussion on the catechism that meets on the first Tuesday of the month. Because the program was begun at St. Paul’s in April and is intended to end in August most of the sessions cover study point highlights from two chapters.

“It surprised me how the parish study is on point with the catechism,” said Dena Simpson, who is the parish liaison for the World Meeting of Families and one of three designated facilitators for the study group.

In the format adopted at St. Paul’s, participants receive a name tag and all are expected to have read the chapter or chapters to be discussed ahead of time. This is relatively easy because the entire catechism, which focuses on the theology of the family and specific family issues, has chapters that are typically less than 10 pages in length.


A participant studies Scripture passages related to the study theme. (Sarah Webb)

Meetings begin with a short Scripture reading, a further explanation by Father John Large, St. Paul’s pastor, and then the group breaks up into one to three small discussion groups depending upon the attendance at the meeting. There the study points and selected paragraph of the chapter are read followed by reflection and discussion by the small group members, after which they come together as a whole to discuss stand out points from the small groups.

The entire session ends with the recitation of the World Meeting of Families prayer, which many if not most parishes in the archdiocese are praying together before Mass each Sunday.

The May 5 session that covered Chapters Four (Two Become One) and Five (Creating the Future) from the catechism may be typical. The takeaways from Chapter Four were “Through the Eucharist we can nourish ourselves; spouses help us to grow in holiness, forgiveness and acceptance and the Mother (church) knows us better than we know ourselves.”

From Chapter Five, the consensus takeaway was “the family is the basic unit of society and church; little church is our family, big church is our parish; the family that prays together stays together; and find solemnity in the Mass and peace and quietness in the tabernacle.”

Each participant will take something different from the study group.

For Simpson, who is a convert, it was especially enlightening because her formal Catholic training was through her year in RCIA, but cradle Catholics found it helpful too.

Lena Ruiz welcomes and checks in the attendees. (Sarah Webb)

Lena Ruiz welcomes and checks in the attendees. (Sarah Webb)

“I feel closer to my religion since I started this,” said Janet Bruno, a birth Catholic. “I’ve never had a priest to hold my attention as Father Large does. He holds my interest and puts all the points together.”

Discussing family issues is one thing, assisting families in need is quite another. According to St. Paul’s weekly newsletter parishioners contributed a second collection on the May 23-24 weekend to a unique cause. The money went to assist employees and their families at two CVS stores in Baltimore that were destroyed in the recent riots in that city.

Also taking a page from the catechesis in a manner similar to St. Paul’s is St. Pius X Parish in Broomall. There, parishioners will meet to discuss chapters on the first Wednesday of the months leading up to the big September events, on June 3, July 1 and Aug. 5 beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the St. Pius church basement.

Of course many parishes are running other types of programs that complement the World Meeting of Families. For example, St. Norbert Parish in Paoli will run a nine-week series of Sunday morning lectures on family issues beginning June 7 and ending Aug. 9 with a break on July 5.

The 10:15-11:15 a.m. lectures, dovetailed between the 9 and 11:30 a.m. Masses, feature Sarah Christmyer, Bill Donaghy, Deacon John Lozano, Andrew Youngblood and Kevin Hughes. For more information on their topics visit the parish website.