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2015 World Meeting of Families Print
Guest column
Thursday, May. 28, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Andy Galvin

First in a series of articles on the World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia in September.

The World Meeting of Families (WMOF) is a week-long international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration that seeks to strengthen the bonds between families and to witness to the crucial importance of marriage and the family to all of society.

There are three parts to the WMOF: a Theological Adult Congress and a concurrent Youth Congress, the Festival of Families, and a Papal Mass.

History of meeting

WMOF was conceived by St. John Paul II in 1992 to look at strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe.

The first WMOF took place in Rome in 1994, the International Year of the Family, and it has continued to be held every three years at locations around the world: Milan, Italy (2012); Mexico City, Mexico (2009); Valencia, Spain (2006); Manila, Philippines (2003); Rome, Italy (2000); Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1997); and Rome, Italy (1994).

This year's meeting

This year's WMOF event will take place in Philadelphia, Pa., September 22 through 27.

The theme for the 2015 WMOF, chosen by Pope Francis, is "Love Is Our Mission: the Family Fully Alive."

The agenda for the Congress will include an opening celebration on Tuesday, Sept. 22, followed by the three-day Congress, which will include Mass, general sessions, and breakout sessions.

There will also be Adoration, Sacrament of Reconciliation, and many fun activities. The international lineup of speakers includes Fr. Robert Barron, Dr. Scott Hahn, Fr. Larry Richards, Dr. Janet Smith, and many more.

The pope will be there!

Perhaps most exciting is the recent announcement that Pope Francis will attend the event -- the first visit to the U.S. of his pontificate, and in fact the first time he has ever visited our country.

It's expected that up to two million people will attend the closing Papal Mass.

Who can go?

Everyone! The event is open to the public and there are activities for the whole family.

The Congress will be Tuesday through Friday with tracks for both adults and children.

On Saturday, there will be a Festival of Families, an intercultural celebration of family life around the world.

Finally, Sunday will culminate the event with a Papal Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of Philadelphia.

The Festival of Families and Papal Mass are both open to the public.

The official website ( contains all the information on registering and accommodations. Lodging includes hotels and area host families. But spots are going fast!

Preparatory Catechesis

The Preparatory Catechesis plays a central role in each World Meeting of Families. The host diocese for each World Meeting writes an event-specific document -- a collection of what Catholics believe about human purpose, marriage, and the family.

The truths about the family gathered in the preparatory document are what the Catholic Church traditionally teaches, so this is not new teaching. But each preparatory document has particular emphases based on the issues facing the host country and the world at the time of the event.

The Preparatory Catechesis of the World Meeting of Families-Philadelphia 2015 includes 10 themes that explore how all of Catholic teaching on sex, marriage, and the family flows from our basic beliefs about Jesus.

Since God is love and we are formed in his image and likeness, it stands to reason then that our mission for life is to love God and one another -- by doing so we become fully alive and our human desires are fulfilled.

Over the next 10 months, we will explore one theme of the catechesis per month and provide additional information as we approach the 2015 World Meeting of Families.

Theme 1: Created for Joy
A plan for life and the love which sustains us

Many today want us to believe that man is merely a biological reality with no real purpose. Life can be good, but only if we make it so.

They would say that we can believe whatever is right for us, and it's perfectly fine to just get along. When our lives end, the world continues on without us and we fade away into memory.

But as Christians we know that there is much more to life (and the afterlife) than the culture around us would have us believe. In fact, we have historical proof that it is so -- Jesus Christ became a particular man in a particular time and in a particular place, a historical fact. His disciples testified that he lived life, he died, and as we celebrated the Ascension recently, he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. But why?

The Second Vatican II teaches that "Christ . . . fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling." We believe that in Jesus, God became man. And being like us in all things but sin, his human nature reveals to us how man was meant to be "from the beginning." Not the man of sin that we have become because of the fall, but the sons of God that we are gifted and destined to be.

By learning who Christ is, we begin to understand ourselves and to see the awesome plan that God has in mind for every one of us, even despite our sinfulness.

Jesus reveals God and the plan begins to unfold

Christianity is the only world religion that looks at God as an intimate, loving Father figure. He's not remote or distant but rather loves us in such a way that he yearns to accompany each one of us along our path in life.

We know this because his very own son became one of us and experienced all of life's difficulties and joys just as we do now. Imagine God becoming a fragile baby, a mischievous adolescent, and a dutiful son to his earthly mother and father, just so that we would understand how much he loves us!

Jesus teaches us that he is the son of the Father, and that with his Father they send the Holy Spirit to be with us. Though a mystery to us, the Catechism tells us that the Trinity is an eternal exchange of love, a divine communion, and that we are destined to share in that exchange.

We understand God to be a God of love and that our mission in life must be to share that love. In fact, Pope Benedict tells us that "it is love that makes the human person the authentic image of the Blessed Trinity, the image of God."

Jesus reveals our human identity and destiny

Certainly we are meant to show our love for God. But we are also meant to show and share that love with those around us. If we are made in the image of God, first and foremost this tells us that we must have communion to be fully human.

What happens when a person is put in solitary confinement? They go crazy! In other words, a basic truth of humanity is that we need relationship with the other -- we need to love and to be loved.

God created us out of sheer gift of his love, and Christ shows us the most authentic expression of love through the sacrifice, the gift, of his life. Thus we are called to love by being a gift to others. St. John Paul II said that man can only be authentically human by being a sincere gift of self.

Love is the family mission

If we want to live as the sons and daughters of God that we truly are, then we must accept God's summons to love God and neighbor. In fact, the most basic vocation of every human being is to love.

This is the foundational element of all moral theology, on every Church teaching on the difficult issues of sexuality, marriage, and family. It is the mission of the family to instill this understanding of communion, love, and self-gift to our children so that they understand their great dignity and how to live out their lives in a way that will make them "fully alive."

Next month: The Mission of Love

God works through us. Our mission in the world is to receive God's love and to show God's love to others. God seeks to heal a broken universe and He asks us to be his witnesses and helpers in that work.

Free online study guides are available at For more information, go to

Andy Galvin is the marriage and family life coordinator in the Diocese of Madison.