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The voices of children opened the 2015 World Meeting of Families, as a local children’s choir sang an invitation to all families to gather and praise God. Donna Farrell, Executive Director of the World Meeting of Families, was first to take the stage, announcing that this is the largest gathering in the history of the World Meeting, with nearly 20,000 participants from over 100 countries. She expressed anticipation about the week to come,as well as the papal visit at the end of the week, when “the Holy Father will re-energize all people and encourage us to strive for a greater connection within our own families.
Next up was Bob Ciaruffoli, President of World Meeting of Families 2015, who thanked all who had worked so tirelessly to make this event a reality. He was followed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who said, “What happens here this week is a celebration, not about the past, but the future. His Church welcomes all people…to join us these days for a period of joy and fellowship.” Chaput recalled the first Mass held in Philadelphia – with a congregation of only 11 people and celebrated by a Jesuit priest. “This weekend,” said Chaput, “another Jesuit will celebrate Mass for us. And this time, the congregation will be tens of millions here in Philadelphia and watching from around the world.” Archbishop Chaput stated that he sees the growth of the Church in Philadelphia since that first Mass as a sign that “God remakes the world through the people and families that love him.”
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was the next to speak to those gathered. He stated that there was no better city in the world to host the World Meeting of Families than Philadelphia, “whose very name recalls the love we have for families.” “The family is our passion,”said Archbishop Paglia, “and it is also our mission. Every family must dream of a better world for everyone, and particularly for the weakest among us.” Archbishop Paglia called the family “our most valuable and most important resource,” and said, “If the family is fully alive, society is fully alive.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter also addressed the crowd, saying, “What we have been working on and preparing for and thinking about in Philadelphia is finally here.” He credited his own Catholic education for making him the person he is today. He recounted Philadelphia’s tradition of religious freedom, saying that this history is why the city “is the perfect place for the World Meeting of Families.” Mayor Nutter presented Archbishop Chaput with two locally made gifts for Pope Francis – an ornate bowl made of bone china and a bicycle – “a people’s bicycle for the people’s pope.” He again expressed great happiness that his city was chosen to host the World Meeting of Families. “What better place,” asked Nutter, “to celebrate loving God and one another than in the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection?”
Dr. Joseph White is a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor.