PHILADELPHIA – The eighth World Meeting of Families closed Friday with an appeal to the wider family of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.
“What we need is to revitalize our worship. We need to minimize our differences, we need to mobilize our members, we need to evangelize the lost and we need to reenergize our families,” said Rick Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback Church in California.
Warren delivered the closing keynote at the event that morning alongside Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, on “The Joy of the Gospel of Life.”
That came as Pope Francis spoke alongside leaders from Muslim, Jewish, and other faiths Friday at a multi-religious gathering at Ground Zero in New York.
“I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world,” Francis said.
And it came just a month before the 50th anniversary of “Nostra aetate,” Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
The weeklong World Meeting of Families, the largest in history and the first in the United States, included not just speakers who are Catholic, but also those who Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, and Protestant. It brought nearly 20,000 pilgrims from 100 countries this week to the city, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced.
It’s what brought the pope to the United States and where he will celebrate the closing Mass for the event Sunday on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Friday’s final keynote wasn’t the first time Warren had spoken at a Vatican-sanctioned event. He had been invited by Francis to be the closing speaker last year at a conference titled “An International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman.” He also had been invited to the welcome ceremony for the pope Wednesday at the White House.
At both events, the megachurch pastor said, the pope repeated a phrase that has stuck with him: “Today families are being threatened. They’re being threatened within and threatened without.”
In his characteristic, engaging style, Warren listed a number of those threats to the family, including “sin is normalized,” “abortion is legalized,” “Christians are demonized” and “immigrants are stigmatized.”
“Beauty and joy are the most powerful tools we have to evangelize, so together we want to dream of a world where a beauty of family life attracts people,” O’Malley said.
And the cardinal invited more than just Catholics to share that dream. He shared a story about people in Papua New Guinea who were scandalized by the divisions between Catholic and Lutheran missionaries in their country.
“Christ longed for unity and fraternity among his disciples, and we’ve come to accept division as something normal, unremarkable, inevitable,” he said.
Stephanie Fausto, who traveled to the World Meeting of Families with her husband, three children, and 33 pilgrims from Amarillo, Texas, said that spoke to her more than anything else at the event.
“It was beautiful to be able to see the unity within the Church. That’s really nice. It’s not just Catholics who believe in a lot of the values and morals that we defend and the Church upholds,” Fausto said.
And it’s not just families that needed Warren and O’Malley’s message of joy, or the joy all agreed Francis was sure to bring to the Festival of Families and papal Mass this weekend, said Sister Rosemary Onwuemene of Nigeria, now a member of the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary in Yonkers, N.Y.
“You need joy to continue religious life,” Onwuemene said.