WMOF pilgrims share their experiences

Phi Le (from left), Oscar and Rosalba Aldama, Paulist Father Bruce Nieli and Gustavo Rodriguez attended the World Meeting of Families in September. They will share some of their experiences at the Celebration of Families Fully Alive on Nov. 14 in Buda. (Photo courtesy Gustavo Rodriguez)

By Peggy Moraczewski

“Society grows strong, grows in goodness, grows in beauty and truly grows if it is built on the foundation of the family,” Pope Francis said at the Festival of Families on Sept. 27.
As Phi Le said, “The Catholic Church is like a big family!” He described the joy he felt in meeting people from across the globe at the eighth World Meeting of Families (WMOF). “(It) was really like a sign of heaven, where people from all over the world came together, especially for the liturgies ... everybody was so joy-filled!” he said.
Joyful, energizing, beautiful, spiritual and genuine – these were the vibrant threads that bound together the reflections of diocesan representatives who attended the WMOF and papal visit in Philadelphia. Appointed by Bishop Joe Vásquez, Phi Le and Gustavo Rodriguez from the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, were accompanied by a young married couple, Oscar and Rosalba Aldama. Together, they came home prepared to share their personal experiences with Central Texas families at the Celebration of Families Fully Alive on Nov. 14 in Buda. 
Their stories contain images of pilgrims who traveled from places as distant as Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Senegal, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and even a family who drove from Argentina. Captivating keynote speaker, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, opened his address by introducing his parents and siblings who traveled with him from the Philippines, and closed with a song about how beautiful it is to be in a family. 
“He (Cardinal Tagle) was like a pop star!” Rodriguez said.
While entertaining with great stories, music and humor, Cardinal Tagle conveyed a clear message using the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. Emphasizing the value of every family member, from grandparents to newborn babies, he compared the church to a family. It is all of us combined that make a family. The family is the cornerstone of society. 
“This image of the church as a ‘family of families’ permeated the entire week in Philadelphia,” said Paulist Father Bruce Nieli, who represented Catholic Charities of Central Texas and joined hundreds of priests and seminarians in the opening procession of the WMOF. He also concelebrated at the Mass for the disabled held at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann; a Mass that was so moving the Aldamas said it will change their lives forever.
Among the Texas pilgrims were a Schoenstatt youth group, led by Schoenstatt Father Jesús Ferras, director of the Schoenstatt Shrine in Austin and Schoenstatt Movement Director for Texas. A trip highlight for this group occurred on their final evening in Philadelphia, when they encountered the daughter of St. Gianna (Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla). 
“She wanted a picture with us and it was such a special moment for the youth. (She was) so genuine, so beautiful and so nice,” said Rodriguez, who had joined the youth group for dinner. St. Gianna is the patron saint for mothers, physicians and unborn children.
Memorable moments fortified the WMOF, including rich homilies and dynamic keynote speakers, such as Bishop Robert Barron from Los Angeles. Enhanced by solemn liturgies, activities, exhibits, artwork and a grotto to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, opportunities to share with each other, learn from one another and pray for each other were abundant.  
This encounter with thousands of families and Pope Francis touched hearts even beyond the Catholic family. Rodriguez said they visited with a gentleman who was not Catholic, but was in awe of what he was observing. The man said, “What this pope is doing is pretty impressive. I just might propose to my girlfriend. It just feels good around here.” 
The friendliness and openness of everyone they encountered really impressed the Austin delegation. Homes were decorated with the papal flag, people were waving, smiling and happy. Le even found himself singing and dancing on the street with a group of religious sisters from Miami.
The pinnacle of the WMOF was Pope Francis and his genuine love for the people. 
“I think he had more energy when he was personally interacting with people on the street ... that’s when he glowed. He laughed, he greeted people,” Le said. And everyone witnessed how the crowds were exhilarated by the pope’s presence. 
Observing families, such as the Aldamas, Rodriguez said, “For me, I was just blessed to witness the emotion in their faces, when they got so excited that the pope was actually coming and (they) would get to see him.” 
The Aldamas are anxious to share their experiences with the Christian Family Movement and at the upcoming Celebration of Families Fully Alive.
The WMOF was started in 1994 by St. John Paul II. Scheduled every three years, the 2018 WMOF will be in Dublin, Ireland.

All families are invited to the Celebration of Families Fully Alive on Nov. 14 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Santa Cruz Parish in Buda. The keynote speaker is Schoenstatt Father Jesús Ferras. Father Juan Carlos Lopez, the diocesan Vicar for Priests, will celebrate a bilingual Mass. A panel will share their experiences from the WMOF. English and Spanish sessions will be offered and resources on marriage and family will be available. There will be music, activities for the children and food for the entire family. Registration is available online at www.austindiocese.org (before Nov. 9). For more information, contact Fernanda Jaimes at (512) 949-2492 or fernanda-jaimes@austindiocese.org.