DUBLIN – Coming into the World Meeting of Families this week in Dublin, Ireland, it would be easy to have a one-track-mind on the issues driving the event, but an opening prayer ceremony Tuesday night suggested that when it comes to the family, the Church is diverse and multifaceted.
Redemptorist Father Jim McManus voiced enthusiasm at being in “a crowd of people who take their families very seriously and are very proud of their own families.”
The Irish priest, who currently lives in Scotland, told Crux that he was looking forward to the speakers and to attending any panel that has “anything to do with joy and love and Amoris Laetitia.”
Pope Francis’s 2016 controversial apostolic exhortation on relationships and family life cautiously opened the door to Communion for divorce and civilly remarried believers.
While some seemed to embrace change, others taking part at the ceremony were looking for reassurance that their Catholic values are protected from secular forces.
“Families and individuals are coming together, still talking about the sacredness of the married life, the family and all of that,” said Father Raphael Madu from Nigeria.
“In an era when people are really trying to bastardize the natural and sacred nature of marriage and the family, the conversations that will take place in the various arenas and the themes are very pertinent,” he told Crux.
Beyond Amoris and modern understandings of family life, another issue clearly on the minds of many taking part in the ceremony is the clerical sex abuse crisis that has in many ways overshadowed the event before it began, given the slew of recent revelations from the United States to Chile.
Father Kieran McDermott, rector of Dublin’s pro-Cathedral and Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization and Ecumenism, defined the clerical sexual abuse crisis as a “huge storm.”
“It’s very hard to listen to the stories of abuse victims,” he said. “Sometimes we’re moved to silence, to tears. You think of a young child who’s had this horrific experience. So how do we reach out to them? The first thing is to listen to what they’re saying and see what we can do.”
McDermott, who will host the pope in the pro-Cathedral, said that he’s “a bit concerned” because there’s “a huge emphasis on how Pope Francis is going to respond. And I think it’s superhuman.”
The abuse scandals, he said, are going to be something the Church will have to live with for decades still, but “we have to come up with something that will address this once and for all. It’s not acceptable.”
McDermott was 18 and finishing his first year in seminary the last time a pope came to Ireland, back in 1979. Though he said Irish Catholics feel privileged by Francis’s visit, he said much has changed: “There are more questions, and it’s become more secular. But that’s the challenge of the Gospel, to be in the public square, to listen to what is being said, answering questions and engaging in dialogue.”
Irish Bishop Paul Tighe, who works in the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, also spoke with Crux before the opening prayer, saying he hopes Francis will “spark the culture of encounter” in people, born “from that encounter with Christ” for Christians.
“I hope that maybe those who are here, or who are coming from all parts of the world, see it as coming not from a crisis manager but from a man of God who will be taking his strength from Christ, hoping that everyone can find that same strength in Christ too.”
Despite sour notes and serious concerns for the future of the Church, the general feel of the room was one of excitement and many of the participants displayed joy and eagerness to take part in the event.
“We are very happy to be here, it’s so exciting to see families from all over the world who come and meet, greet, share, pray, learn, grow, that’s what we are here for,” said Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, current Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, who is here all week with a delegation of diocese members and families.
“There’s a wide variety of topics that talk spirituality, that talk very concrete things like the numeric world, the respect for creation, our common home, relationships, adolescence,” he said.
“All of these questions are in the air and are part of our lives. Families are in the midst of the world, so we need to have these themes to help us grow,” Lacroix said.
Getting such a diverse bunch together for a few days is seen as an opportunity for some to engage with different views and perspectives.
“I’m interested in knowing the different cultures and meeting the different people from different countries,” said Deacon Vincent Kekelwa Lumano from Zimbabwe, before adding with a smile: “as well as meeting the pope up close.”
Two elderly Irish women who saw Pope John Paul II at Phoenix Park in 1979 were eager to welcome another pope, seemingly energized by the excitement in the room.
A family of five, including a 15-year-old disabled child, expressed its eagerness to see Francis and share their story during a panel Aug. 22 on families and disabilities.
Under the crowded roof of the family event, it’s impossible to pinpoint one single issue or topic as the key to it all. But while the interests and agenda of attendees at the World Meeting of Families may vary, the anticipation and excitement to have a platform to discuss family life in a time of change and challenges seemed fairly universal.
In his homily during the liturgy, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said “there are those who would look at the world meeting as some sort of ideological gathering to celebrate a type of family which probably doesn’t exist.”
The family, he said, “is not a remote ideological notion but the place where compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness are learned, practiced and spread.”
He noted how, over his lifetime, “family life has changed” and that “we have to find ways of ensuring that these new relationships and challenges in family culture become ‘clothed in love’.”