Delegates from the Diocese of Buffalo will travel to Philadelphia next month to attend the World Meeting of Families. The gathering, held Sept. 22-27, will be an international event of prayer, catechesis and celebration.
The World Meeting of Families, held every three years, seeks to strengthen the bonds between families and to witness to the crucial importance of marriage and the family to all of society. The week consists of a theological adult congress, and a concurrent youth congress, followed by the Festival of Families and a papal Mass.
The Adult Congress is for ages 18 and up, and consists of six keynote addresses presented by internationally known speakers. These keynotes are followed by multiple breakout sessions to address ways to strengthen the bonds of family. The Youth Congress is for ages 6-18 and is an interactive program where young people can build, create, play, listen and serve.
About 20 delegates from the Diocese of Buffalo will be attending under the auspices of the diocesan Office of Family Life, which discussed the importance of the meeting with the Office of Evangelization and Parish Life, Catholic Education, Lifelong Faith Formation and Pro-Life Activities.
"The purpose of this is to bring families together," said Nancy Sherr, director of Family Life. "In the bishops' working documents they want us to be able to highlight and remind the world and the Church that the family is the cell of society and how important it is."
Following the gathering, delegates will take what they learned back to Buffalo and form a commission that will serve as a consultative body to Bishop Richard J. Malone to help the bishop care for families, promote family life, and help those who struggle. Delegates were chosen based on geographic location, expertise, leadership roles in their parishes, and their ability to be a credible voice in the diocese.
"We are specifically using this as their orientation and training," said Dennis Mahaney, director of the Office of Evangelization and Parish Life. "We're going to take the document, 'Love is Our Mission,' and we're going to be using sort of a closed group on Facebook, as well as webinar technology to get (delegates) to review this and consider what the preparatory document is saying to everybody, so they can hit the ground running."
Brian Ruh, pastoral associate at St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda, is one of the delegates attending the meeting and will serve on the diocesan commission when he returns.
"Our promise is, once we get back, we're going to do our best to reach out to the families in the Diocese of Buffalo, try to come up with meaningful and spiritual ways to grow in the faith, talk about potential problems and how to address them," he said. "I saw it as a cool opportunity. I wanted to learn more about what the thoughts were about family and how to reach out to them. There are a lot of families that are falling away from our Catholic faith right now, and I love the faith, and I'm thinking to myself, if I can play a part in bringing families back or encouraging families to stay, then I'd love to be able to be a part of that."
As a husband and father, Ruh sees his role in his family as that as provider and protector. He takes his responsibility seriously.
"I got four girls and I'm seeing things change in the world. And I know change is always there, that I accept. But if there is something that I don't think is healthy within this change, I think I have the opportunity to speak up and share my thoughts on why I think it is unhealthy or not wise," he said.
Laura Genco, the mother of four young adults, has seen her kids through all stages of faith formation. She relies on her faith every day while raising her children.
"There are always challenges especially when at one point we needed to go to public schools, and I was worried about how I was going to continue their faith formation," she said. "The teenager years are challenging when they are exposed to so much and you still want to bring it back to what we believe in."
She hopes to attend breakout session dealing with family values.
"My priorities are my family and my faith, so between the two of those it's important to me," she said. "The evangelization of helping other families to raise their kids in this crazy society that we have in a Catholic way and to help them with the challenges this society is bring up to them, and trying to stay focused on our Catholic beliefs and values; I wish there would be people helping me when I was raising my children."
The mission of the Office of Family Life is to reflect caring, concern and compassionate pastoral presence for family in all dimensions, be it traditional families, blended families, single-parent families, international families, single persons, those adopted, disabled, those hurting and suffering, although the definition of family seems to change constantly. The Supreme Court recently announced that same-sex marriage is allowed in all 50 states of the country. The Diocese of Buffalo maintains the traditional values of family as the primary teacher of the faith.
"Family life and faith has been passed down from family to family to family for two millennia," said Sherr. "Family is a life of communion, and with one woman and one man you are able to perpetuate that life of communion, that life of love and life. You are able as a man and woman to beget life, to bring forth new life, and continue in that tradition of marriage, which has populated our world. We want to keep coming back to that strong, consistent message of family life."
"It is the essential discipling mechanism in the history of our species. Family is the place where people come for faith. It is where they understand who God is. It is where they encounter and grow in their knowledge of God," added Mahaney.
The World Meeting of Families is open to all people. Pope Francis will close the event on Sunday Sept. 27 with a public Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. An estimated 2 million people are expected to attend the Mass.
For more information visit www.worldmeeting2015.org.