As I took part in this unique event with my family, what struck me the most was not only the universality of the church, but how the various messages on marriage and family life were important to the whole world, and applied to all of us, no matter where we lived. After coming home, I have had a lot of opportunity to reflect on the theme and talks and how they apply to the everyday family in the parish.
For this event, Pope Francis chose the theme “Family Love: A Vocation and a Path to Holiness.” I highly recommend searching “World Meeting of Families 2022” and watching the EWTN coverage. There are numerous talks from people around the globe that highlight how this call to holiness can be achieved through family life. Because this conference occurred over three days, there is too much to cover in this space. However, I want to highlight three topics that I thought applied beautifully to lives in a modern everyday family.
The first talk was by Dr. Christopher Bellitto, a Professor of History at Kean University in Union, N.J. on the importance of pairing up older generations with youth. Pope Francis had stated in a 2013 World Youth Day Speech in Brazil that, “Older people are often thought of as at an end, which means they’re no longer useful and can be disposed.” Francis added, “No …. the elderly are also the future of a people.”
Bellitto did a great job highlighting the importance of recognizing the learned experience of the elderly and seeing them as influencers of the upcoming younger generations. Those who are older have seen the Holy Spirit act throughout their lives and can share this readily with young people, who are filled with joy and zeal for the future. The presentation focused on having the elders share their stories and be seen as mentors and partners to the young. Sharing tasks such as cooking or crafts can be one profound way to pass on the faith and influence the next generation uniquely in a family setting.
Another talk was given by a couple from France, Sandrine and Guillaume Haudebourg, who discussed the importance of bringing Christ into the home in this digital age. One suggestion they made was to have each room of our houses inspire conversations between couples. In the family room, they could discuss work life balance. The kitchen might provide conversations on health. Each room allows an opportunity for us to realize that the Lord is essential in every part of their home and our relationships. The Haudebourgs also encouraged creating community through digital means, such as their own prayer group that started during the pandemic but has continued meeting weekly via Zoom for community and support.
The last and perhaps best talk was from an Australian couple who spoke about forgiveness as a path to holiness. In February 2020, a drunk driver crashed into a group of siblings and cousins of Daniel and Leila Abdallah’s family while they were walking to get ice cream. Four children were killed, three from the Abdallah family and a niece. Two of their other children sustained serious injuries.
The Abdallahs described how, in that moment, they were drawn to forgive the driver and not carry hatred in their hearts. Although they wanted the driver to be treated justly, they discussed how forgiveness was an incredible path of healing and holiness in their lives. Their testimony included descriptions of prayer services that were covered by the media after the event and how their family’s message of forgiveness made a profound impact on the people of Australia. They said that, in light of this tragedy, Australia adopted a National Day of Forgiveness (i4give.com), similar to our National Day of Thanksgiving. On that day, people are encouraged to let go of anger and hatred to find a pathway to healing through forgiveness. The Abdallahs’ story can be found on YouTube (youtu.be/DiLGPqJUrWs). They received a 10-minute standing ovation. If nothing else, find time to listen to this story this summer.