The family has always been central for Christians. The Catechism describes it as the “the original cell of social life,” Catholics pay great homage to the Holy Family, and recent popes have taken up the topic, from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
But among Catholic leaders, the family is receiving more attention today than perhaps at any time in the last century. The boost started during last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Discussions about marriage and the many challenges families face today pervaded the Church. The discussion continues this year as we move toward the Ordinary Synod on the Family, scheduled for October 2015.
However, in between the two Synods awaits the World Meeting of Families, which will take place September 21-25, 2015 in Philadelphia. Held every three years and sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, the World Meeting of Families is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families.
Each World Meeting of Families has a theme, and this year it is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” emphasizing the impact of the love and life of families on our society. The event always generates great excitement but will garner special enthusiasm this year thanks to Pope Francis, who will be attending the event during his first visit to the United States.
Today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing Archbishop Charles Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia and official host of the World Meeting of Families. We discuss the upcoming event, the greatest challenges families face today, and how the Pope’s presence will uplift Catholics throughout America.
BRANDON VOGT: Let’s start off with a simple question. What is the World Meeting of Families? Where did it originate and why is it important?
ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT: St. John Paul II founded the World Meeting of Families in 1994, building on the success of World Youth Day in Denver and other cities globally. It takes place every three years in a different nation.
The purpose is simple but vital: to help people deepen their Christian understanding and experience of family life. If the family is the foundation of society, and of course it is, then strengthening family life is the surest guarantee of a healthy culture.
BRANDON: The theme of the 2015 “World Meeting of Families,” in Philadelphia, is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” What does that mean?
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: The theme borrows from those great words of St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Men and women are most fully alive when they love as God loves, deeply and unselfishly, and for most people the path to that kind of love is through marriage and family.
BRANDON: In preparation for the meeting the Archdiocese has produced a beautiful compendium titled Love is Our Mission. Tell us about the book and why even those not attending the World Meeting should read it.
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: The text is the work of a dozen or so very gifted scholars and editors, but it’s not at all tedious or academic; very much the opposite. It reads beautifully – brief, engaging, and clear – and it’s designed that way for everyday Catholics, whether they attend the Philadelphia gathering or not.
It a modest little book, but it takes the reader step by step through every issue that matters in life: our creation, our purpose, our sexuality, our lives together as families and Church, our destiny with God. And it does it all in a spirit of joy and hope. The drafting team did a great job.
BRANDON: The family faces many challenges today, internally and from beyond. What are the most significant threats and how can families overcome them?
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: Unless we consciously choose a different path, modern life can become one long catechesis in selfishness. That’s the biggest deceit in modern life, and it hides behind a wall of noise and distraction.
Aside from the love that we give and we get, our individual lives in this world aren’t very important at all. We were created for others, not for ourselves. God loves each of us uniquely and infinitely; that’s why we’re precious. That’s why each person’s life is sacred.
The family is so important because, when it’s lived well, it teaches us how to be really human. It’s a school in how to love.
BRANDON: Perhaps the biggest highlight of the World Meeting of Families will be having Pope Francis there. How do you think his presence will affect the archdiocese, and how will it uplift families?
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: Pope Francis has an informality and joy about him that ignite people’s hearts. Families are hungry for hope, and Francis inspires that just by his presence. The Pope’s time in Philadelphia will be important not just for people who attend the World Meeting of Families, but for everyone who follows his words that week from a distance.
For the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – with God’s grace and a lot of work – his visit will be a moment of renewal and new zeal to live the Christian life; and that’s very much my prayer for the local Church.
BRANDON: If you could deliver a one-sentence message to all families around the word, what would you say?
ARCHBISHOP CHAPUT: Come to Philadelphia in September.
Learn more about the World Meeting of Families, including how to register and a list of events and speakers, at the their website, WorldMeeting2015.org.
Word on Fire friends should note that Fr. Robert Barron will deliver the opening keynote address on Tuesday, September 22 at 2:30 pm. His talk is titled “Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love.” Find the full schedule here (PDF).