Smaller, more low-key World Meeting of Families begins this week in Rome

ROME — Adapting to the post-pandemic world, the itinerant Catholic festival known as the World Meeting of Families will take place in Rome this week, and the events will be live-streamed around the world.

The event was originally scheduled for 2021, in order to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the family, Amoris Laetitia, but was moved to June 22-26, 2022, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pope Francis also requested a change to the usual format, according to the Vatican. Instead of thousands of families flocking to the host city, the WMOF 2022 is by invite only. Participants are primarily representatives of episcopal conferences and ecclesial movements. An estimated 2,000 families will be attending.

The Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has requested bishops’ conferences include a limited number of married couples and families in their delegations, along with clergy who have focused their ministry towards marriages and families.

The Vatican is strongly encouraging all dioceses to celebrate the World Meeting by gathering families for a customized, local experience of formation, prayer, and fellowship.

The gathering will focus on the theme “Family love: a vocation and a path to holiness” and marks the end of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year. The program is in Rome and includes Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, talks by lay Catholic couples, family activities, and a live performance by Italian operatic pop trio Il Volo, all of which will be live-streamed.

Pope Francis will participate in three events: The Festival of Families, which will open the gathering on the afternoon of June 22; Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday evening, June 25; and he will address families at the Angelus on Sunday and commission them to share what they have learned with others when they return home. If he upholds tradition, the city and year for the next meeting will be announced at this time.

“To prepare for this new multi-center and widespread edition of the World Meeting we had to deal with many challenges, starting with the pandemic, which delayed and complicated the organization, but we did it,” said Gabriella Gambino, Undersecretary of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life. “Around the world so many dioceses are organizing to gather families around their bishop or parish priest; they are using the same pattern as the meeting to be held in Rome.”

The first WMF was held in Rome in 1994, after that year was declared by the United Nations as the International Year of the Family. Pope John Paul II wanted the Catholic Church to join in the celebration, and among the activities proposed was the gathering in Rome. It has been happening ever since

Thus far, Francis has taken part in two meetings: one in Philadelphia in 2015, where more than a million people attended the closing Mass, and one in Dublin in 2018, which had a strong focus on safeguarding and abuse prevention due to the scale of the Irish church’s clerical abuse crisis.

In Rome, the encounter will be held in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. The bishops’ conferences were tasked with financing the traveling expenses for the 2,000 delegates.

The Rome event will be livestreamed and translated into English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian as well as different forms of sign language. According to the published program, the meeting will cover topics ranging from educating young people in sexuality to being Christians in the era of social media, and from families that suffer domestic violence to accompanying couples in their first year of marriage.

Another difference between this and previous editions is the decision not to have theologians and scholars give talks. Instead, mostly married couples and only three priests will speak. There are 30 panels on the list, with 62 speakers coming from 17 countries including the United States, Burundi, Brazil, Australia, Lebanon, Taiwan, and Indonesia. No cardinals or bishops are mentioned in the official program.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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