Record crowd on hand to kick off World Meeting

Students from St. Cornelius School in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania kicked off the the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families by singing the official hymn, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom.”

On this first day of the World Meeting of Families Congress at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, it seemed that all nations had indeed heeded the call. The Puerto Rican flags were flying in the main hall. Books in English, Spanish and Vietnamese were being sold in the exhibit area.

Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of WMOF, said at the Opening Ceremony that more than 100 countries were represented at the event. These people from the Philippines, Nigeria, Vietnam and Argentina, officially made this iteration of the event the largest World Meeting of Families yet, with more than 20,000 participants. And that's not counting the volunteers!

The room, of course, was buzzing about the visit of Pope Francis. The very mention of the upcoming visit was cause for applause around the main hall. A few people asked me if I knew of any insider tips about where to have the best vantage point of the pope.

Still, the day belonged to the family. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that though the event is taking place in a city with so much history, this week is about the future. The family is about the future. Mayor Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia presented a custom-made bike to Archbishop Chaput that will be given to Pope Francis.

“There is no greater humanism than Christianity.”

The second highlight of the day was a rousing address by freshly ordained Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles. The great hall, after clapping and celebrating during the opening ceremony, was at full attention during a masterful presentation from one of the great contemporary Catholic teachers. "Don't let the atheists old or new teach you otherwise.” True Christianity is based in "a deep humanism," he told the crowd.

"Through a sheer act of love, God gives rise to the world," said Bishop Barron. His speech placed the Church's commitment to the family in the context of a theology of creation.

Bishop Barron called families to reject the false idols in their lives: wealth, pleasure, power. “False worship is what rends the heart,” he said. Adam, he said, was given the mission to be a priest, prophet and king. This is how we live out imago Dei: we give proper worship to God, which leads to “peace to people of goodwill.” He focused specifically on the prophetic nature of the family.

“Law is not the enemy of freedom; law is the condition for the possibility of freedom,” he said, reminiscing about his own attempts to golf without knowing any of the “laws” of the game. Nevertheless, there is always a balance: “The Church’s extravagant demand is coupled with her extravagant mercy.”

On Day 1 of the World Meeting of Families, all were inspired by this radical call and by such a diverse gathering of people seeking to live it out.

Eric Banecker is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.