The World Meeting of Families 2022 (WMOF2022) concluded on Sunday 26 June in Rome with a mission offered to all families by Pope Francis to: “Proclaim the beauty of being family with joy! Proclaim the grace of Christian marriage to children and young people.”

The WMOF2022 was different from previous World Meetings as it was greatly reduced in numbers because of Covid-19, and so it brought just 2,400 delegates to Rome for the event. The other difference was that the speakers were all families and married couples, with just three priests on the list of 62 speakers and one or two family experts. This was a gathering about families sharing the joys and challenges of family life with other families from 120 countries across the world.

The Irish delegation to WMOF2022 was led by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and by Bishop Denis Nulty, Chair of the Council for Marriage and the Family. The delegation included priests, family groups and lay ecclesial associations working to support marriage and family life.

Festival of Families

The WMOF2022 began with a concert-style event called the ‘Festival of Families’ in the presence of Pope Francis. A number of families shared very moving testimonies of real problems like infidelity in relationships, illness and grief, and the impact of the war in Ukraine. Responding to the testimonies, Pope Francis said, “Stop and listen. Let yourselves be changed by him, so that you too can change the world and make it home for all those who need to feel welcomed and accepted, for all those who need to encounter Christ and to know that they are loved.”

Pastoral Congress

The Pastoral Congress element of WMOF2022 took place from Thursday 23 – Saturday June 25. There were 30 panels on a wide range of themes, including: betrayal and forgiveness; accompanying fatherhood and motherhood; the role of grandparents; families and priests together on a mission; adoption and foster care; being Christian in the digital age; the impact of social media on children; addiction; domestic violence; marriage preparation and accompaniment of young married couples; forgiveness.

All of these panel discussions and presentations saw families from across the world sharing their stories in a very open and courageous way. There was no editing and no sanitising of the awfulness of some of the stories including the one shared by Daniel and Leila Abdallah from Australia. They lost three of their children and a niece when a driver under the influence of alcohol hit them as they walked to the shop for ice cream in 2020. Their story, which had forgiveness at its heart, received a double standing ovation at the Pastoral Congress and it is a story that will stay with me for a very long time.

On the Friday evening we were hosted in parishes across Rome. The Irish delegation were welcomed by the Holy Family Parish in Rome where we shared a meal and then a beautiful prayer service where we listened to some more testimony from couples including Brendan and Rosemary Gavin from Teams of Our Lady Ireland.

On Saturday evening came the high point of WMOF2022 – the Closing Mass which was celebrated by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, in the presence of Pope Francis. In a lovely gesture, and to reflect the closeness of the Pope to families, all of the delegates were seated close to the altar area in St Peter’s Square.

A Missionary Sending of Families!

In his homily at the Mass Pope Francis delivered a ‘Missionary Sending of Families’ in which he asked us to announce with joy the beauty of being family! He said, “Give hope to those who have none. Act as if everything depends on you. Be you who ‘sew’ the fabric of society and of a Synodal Church, creating relationships, multiplying love and life. Be the seed of a more fraternal world! Be families with big hearts! Be the welcoming face of the Church! And please pray, always pray!”

It was a real privilege to be part of the Irish delegation at WMOF2022 and to share the joys and challenges of family life with people from across the world. Pope Francis chose ‘Family love: a vocation and a path to holiness’ as the theme for the WMOF2022.

Listening to the testimonies from families, meeting them and the delegates as well as the bishops and priests who are working to support marriage and family life, it’s clear that we all have an important mission to open a path to holiness for our own families, in our parishes and in the Church. And the main take away from WMOF2022 in how to do this is very simple – priests and couples, families and parishes working together!

The next World Meeting of Families will take place in 2028 and in the meantime there will be a Jubilee of Families in Rome during the Jubilee Year 2025.

ENDS

Brenda Drumm is Communications Officer with the Catholic Communications Office of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. This article was published in the June 30th edition of the Irish Catholic Newspaper and appears here with the permission of the editor.