Carissa and Patrick Douglas will be attending the World Meeting of Families in Rome as part of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ delegation alongside 11 other couples from Canada.
1. Ahead of a meeting with Pope Francis, Vincenzo Bassi, the President of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE), said society must rediscover families “as a resource.” Can you unpack this statement for our readers?
Carissa: Years ago, I remember Pope John Paul II writing: “The future of the world and the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, #79). I only began to understand this statement when Patrick and I embarked on the journey of growing our own domestic church. Our mutual yes to God and to each other opened the door to life, and inevitably, to countless opportunities to practice a self-sacrificial love.
The family is where we foster those virtues which are essential to a healthy society: selflessness, kindness, patience, fortitude, hope. The family is a safe place where children can learn to relate to others, to communicate and to work through difficult situations. It is a community that compels each member to work together for the good of the household. It is where we can teach our children about the innate worth of each person.
The world is starving for genuine and authentic encounters with those who understand and affirm their dignity. Thriving families that foster Christian values are not only a resource, but a true gift to society – especially where isolation, confusion and selfishness are prevalent.
2. This is the first time the World Meeting of Families is taking place since the pandemic began. How has the pandemic affected families and their faith lives?
Carissa: We have heard both negative and positive accounts from families.
Stripped of the resources in their communities and kept from the benefits of a thriving parish life, some families felt completely overwhelmed during the pandemic. They wrestled with feelings of isolation and spiritual dryness. Parents and children alike longed for a greater sense of community and personal interaction, and it was a great hardship being separated from that source of support. Coming out of the pandemic, some of these families have been given a new love and appreciation for the Church. They understand what a gift it is to have a larger faith-community where we can grow together.
Sadly, other families are still struggling to regroup after the pandemic exposed fissures and wounds that had been hidden by the frenetic pace of pre-pandemic life. They are still experiencing a form of desolation and will need the church community to reach out to them, inviting them back and reminding them of the incredible graces emanating from the tabernacle in every Catholic Church. Christ is waiting for their return.
We talked to other families who had a very different experience than the aforementioned. They thrived during the pandemic, finding delight in what Pope Francis calls “wasting time together.” Over-scheduled lives were stripped down, and fathers and mothers rediscovered the joy of being the primary educators for their children. Churches temporarily closed, and many fathers took the opportunity to embrace their role as the spiritual head of their families, leading their children in prayer. It was time to reflect and reprioritize, as families discovered their unique character and mission. Having experienced the blessing of intentional family time and decluttered lives, many are now choosing to fight for these “surprise pandemic gifts” even (as we move towards) a post-pandemic world.
3. Can you provide readers with an overview of what will be taking place at the World Meeting of Families?
Patrick: In what might be called the first hybrid model of the World Meeting of Families, dioceses, parishes and families from around the world are invited to participate simultaneously with an in-person, multi-day event that will be held in Rome from Wednesday, June 22 through Sunday, June 26. It begins with a festival of families in the presence of Pope Francis, followed by a series of five pastoral theological congresses, Eucharistic Adoration, Mass presided over by the Holy Father and culminating in the Pope’s Sunday Angelus and Mandate to Families. Evening events include a classical concert, tours of the Lateran Palace and activities in the Roman parishes.
As a special treat, to connect pilgrims to heavenly family intercessors, the relics of Blessed Luigi and Maria Beltrame will be presented in St. Peter’s Basilica, while the relics of the Martin Family (saints Louis and Zélie Martin, and their daughter, St. Therese of Lisieux) will be presented for prayer and devotion at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
4. How can families not in attendance follow along? Will there be a virtual component?
Families are encouraged to pray, reflect with the catechesis for the event and connect via livestream to the signature events in Rome. An official app has been launched to map your virtual World Meeting of Families journey, which includes prayers, resources and the links to the live events. View the official website to download the app here: https://www.romefamily2022.com/en/
5. What are you expecting will be the highlight of this gathering?
Patrick: Our family attended the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with 10 children in tow. While we were looking forward to the Papal Mass as the highlight, as events played out and as we made our trek to the city centre, we couldn’t actually get close enough to where the Mass was being held – there were so many people! What we came home with were the lasting memories of a four-hour walking pilgrimage of a new city that day: pushing a quad stroller with infants and toddlers, praying the rosary, stopping to eat and just enjoying the journey, despite the physical exhaustion. Thus, the highlight of family pilgrimage was not what we expected, nor what we planned.
As Carissa and I plan to travel to this year’s meeting in Rome, while we are definitely excited about meeting other families from across Canada and around the world, being in the presence of the Holy Father and deepening our awareness of our family vocation, we look forward to being surprised by what God will do through this experience.