Concerning families: Parish groups discuss family life in anticipation of pope’s visit to Philly


For The Dialog


BETHANY BEACH — Pope Francis’ focus on family life has struck a chord with parishioners of St. Ann Parish in Bethany Beach.

Study groups there are poring over the final report of the October 2014 World Synod of Bishops on the family with hopes of preparing a document of their own to be sent to Bishop Malooly and to leaders of a second synod, building upon the first, this coming fall.

Like those at the October synod, people attending St. Ann’s study sessions have strongly held and often differing views involving issues affecting family life today, Roach said.

“The church is really involved in a time of discernment about the family and pastoral care for the family,” said Molly Roach, director of religious education at St. Ann. “People want to talk about this. They are really concerned about what is going on with the family in the church.”

The Mid-Atlantic region that includes Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore will be the epicenter of Pope Francis’s concern about the family Sept. 22-27 when the World Meeting of Families is held in Philadelphia. Pope Francis will attend the meeting Sept. 26-27.

Logo for 2015 World Meeting of FamiliesThe visit will be the first to the United States for Pope Francis since he was elected in March 2013. He also is expected to visit Washington and New York City.

Officials of the Diocese of Wilmington have not yet developed plans for how the diocese, which is close to both Philadelphia and Washington, might participate in the papal visit.

Louis De Angelo, Catholic Schools superintendent who on an interim basis is overseeing the offices of religious education and marriage and family life, said those offices will provide educational resources to parishes for both the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit.


Parish study guide

Nancy Burke, director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life, has sent parishes an electronic version of a study guide or faith sharing curriculum for “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the preparatory catechism for the World Meeting of Families.

While Pope Francis planned his visit to coincide with the World Meeting of Families, Burke noted that the visit and the conference “are two separate things.” The World Meeting of Families begins Sept. 22. “Prior to Pope Francis’s visit a lot of educational things will take place” at the conference, she said.

Parishes are beginning to formulate plans to mark both the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit.

The Family Life committee at St. Christopher in Chester, Md., was to begin developing that parish’s plans this week, said parish council member Catherine Roach (no relation to Molly Roach of Bethany Beach). “We have just started to scratch the surface to find out what is in the works,” she said.

One possibility is arranging a bus trip to Philadelphia for both the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit, Roach said. Given St. Christopher’s location 45 miles east of Washington, D.C., the parish might also plan a bus for papal events there, she said. Philadelphia, by comparison, is about 109 miles from Chester.


Cost of world meeting

In Bethany Beach, Molly Roach said St. Ann has not made any plans yet for either the World Meeting of Families or the papal visit. Some parishioners have mentioned they may go since they have relatives to stay with around the Philadelphia area, she said.

One concern for parish leaders is the cost of the World Meeting of Families, Roach said. Early registration, through April 30, begins at $125 per person; the rates rise after that. A daily rate of $95 will be available on-site.

“One of the things we noticed when looking at the workshops is how expensive they are,” Roach said.

St. Ann’s focus on the synod dovetails with the focus on family the Philadelphia conference will provide. Each show the concern the church has for families in today’s world.

That concern resonates with parishioners, she said, noting that 39 people attended the first of four weekly sessions to study the synod document,” noting our concerns and our ideas.”

“That is spectacular,” Roach said about the first weekly session. “I’ve been a director of religious education for a long, long time and getting [almost] 40 people out for something is really amazing.”

Thirty-five people attended either a morning or an evening session the second week. The sessions began Jan. 21 and end next week. Those attending included people from three nearby parishes, St. Jude in Lewes, St. John Neumann in Ocean Pines, Md., and St. Luke-St. Andrew in Ocean City, Md.

Participants break into small groups to discuss the various paragraphs, then come back together to discuss more general questions.


Constructive talks

Like participants at the synod, those attending the meetings have some strongly held positions that may clash with views of other participants. The goal, Roach said, is “to hear everyone’s view of things, listen to everyone’s views, not to decide whether it is right or wrong.”

She noted Pope Francis himself made a similar observation of last October’s synod discussions.

“I asked the synod fathers to speak with frankness and courage and to listen with humility; to say everything that was in their hearts with courage,” Pope Francis said. “There was no pre-censorship at the synod. None. Everyone could, or better, had to say what was in his heart, what he really thought.”

Roach tries the same approach at St. Ann’s meetings. “We’re all committed to keeping it constructive,” she said, “There has to be space for everyone to share what their issues and concerns are.”