Feature

Counting down to family congress
Mags Gargan speaks to the Secretary General of World Meeting of Families

Fr Tim Bartlett, WMOF Secretary General.

With the one year countdown to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin (WMOF) officially launched on Monday, preparations for the event have now entered phase two according to the Secretary General, Fr Tim Bartlett.

Sitting in the sunny WMOF offices in the beautiful grounds of Dublin’s Clonliffe College, Fr Tim explains that the last year has been spent organising the foundations for the event: office space, staff, designing the programme etc. Now it’s time to prepare the parishes of Ireland to take part in the event.

Started in 1994 by Pope St John Paul II, WMOF is a major international event that brings together families from across the world every three years to celebrate, pray and reflect upon the central importance of marriage and the family as the cornerstone of our lives, of society and of the Church. The last one was held in Philadelphia in 2015 and then Ireland was chosen personally by Pope Francis to host the ninth WMOF in 2018.

Papal visit

The question on everyone’s lips is whether Pope Francis will attend the Dublin event and what a papal visit to Ireland might involve. Fr Tim can only that the Pope “has repeatedly indicated his desire to join us for the WMOF in Ireland, however you still require a formal announcement that that will actually take place”. That confirmation is not expected until at least early next year and in the meantime the WMOF organisers are planning provisionally that he will attend and “remain very hopeful and optimistic”, although there is a plan B in place too.

This will be the first WMOF since the two Synods of Bishops which reflected on marriage and the family, and the theme ‘The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World’ comes from the opening paragraph from the Pope’s exhortation The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), which Fr Tim says will be the guiding document for the whole of the preparation period and the event itself.

“In the formal letter convening the WMOF in Dublin, the Holy Father very specifically asked that the period of preparation would assist families in discussing and reflecting upon Amoris Laetitia, so the way we’ve approached that was to launch a one-year period of preparation in Knock on Monday,” Fr Tim says.

“We have worked out how to prepare a programme of structured reflection for parishes which go online this week and hard copies are being sent to parishes across the country over the following weeks. We’ve invited every diocese to nominate representatives, whether at diocesan or parish level, who will liaise with us in the preparations for WMOF, and particularly in helping families and parishes during the coming year to reflect through this programme.”

There are four elements to WMOF: a national opening, a three-day congress, the Festival of Families and the final Mass. There will also be programmes specifically for children and young people.

Opening ceremony

Normally the WMOF formal opening ceremony would take place in the conference venue, but the Irish organisers have decided to do things a little differently with 26 ceremonies happening concurrently across each of the dioceses on the island on the opening day, Tuesday, August 21, “to give expression to the fact that this is a national event, as well as an international event”. 

The international pastoral congress will then run from the Wednesday to Friday and on the Saturday evening there will be a Festival of Families. Much like the Eucharistic Congress of 2012, the pastoral congress will host a series of panels and workshops as well as daily Mass and family activities. “All of the workshops during that congress, and all of the panels and discussions, will somewhere take up themes from Amoris Laetitia,” explains Fr Tim. 

“That ranges from things like, ‘Is there a crisis of commitment in our world today that is inhibiting many young couples who otherwise would appear to be in a married relationship from actually formally getting married?’ 

“We would also be looking at very real, practical issues that come up in Amoris Laetitia like the impact of technology on families today.” 

The Festival of Families meanwhile is a more “reflective” event with prayer, music and drama. At the heart of this Fr Tim says, are “the testimonies of five families chosen from around the world representing the five main continents of the world, giving their testimony of what it is – the joys and the challenges – to be a Christian family in the world today”. 

“At the end of that, if the Holy Father is present among us, he would address the Festival of Families and particularly those testimonies of those families at the end of that event,” he says. 

The final part of the WMOF is the concluding Mass on Sunday, hopefully celebrated by Pope Francis, which is a commissioning out and a celebration of what has happened during the week. 

Launch

A number of elements of the WMOF preparations were launched at Knock Shrine, including the official prayer, an icon of the Holy Family which was written by the Redemptoristine Sisters and will now travel around the dioceses, and a parish programme called ‘Amoris: Let’s Talk Family, Let’s Be Family!’

This programme will provide a number of resources throughout the year on the websites www.worldmeeting2018.ie and www.amoris.ie such as animations and “video interviews with key international and national figures on themes to do with family, and studio programmes in a new dedicated studio will be produced with iCatholic and Kairos communications”. 

There is also a parish-based discussion programme for families, which includes a facilitator’s guide (the WMOF office is offering training for facilitators), a six-session parish conversation programme which takes up themes from Amoris Laetitia and a third booklet offering practical initiatives for popular moments for families. 

“It has set out a series of initiatives carrying us through the whole of next year which tie into popular moments which touch people’s experience of family. So, for example, we produced a special  gift card for children being baptised through the coming year in our parishes across Ireland, and a card commemorating those getting married during the year of preparation for the WMOF,” says Fr Tim.

At Christmas, the WMOF team hope to give a copy of the new icon to everybody who attends Mass. There are also a number of activities planned for Lent and for Easter, such as blessing the family home with Easter water.

“There’s a whole programme of practical, simple initiatives, a menu that parishes can choose from of practical initiatives which lead to reflection and connections to Amoris Laetitia,” Fr Tim says. “In this way, you will hear a lot about the WMOF hopefully through your parish during the coming year.”

Looking forward to the week of WMOF, Fr Tim says he has “absolutely no doubt that the event will be a positive experience for those who come to it and a joyful experience of being together” and he thinks it will “build up people in the sense of faith and solidarity and being part of a universal church”. 

“I hope it will lift people. I hope it will help us to see and engage with the Church universally, and be lifted and encouraged,” he says, “and of course if Pope Francis joins us, that in itself will be a tremendous grace and strengthening and support.”