Family Experience the Joy of Faith

17 Dec 2013

Family Experience the Joy of Faith

We are all on a journey!  How often have I heard that expression, but as I sit here today reflecting on the events of 25 October 2013 I am more aware of  its meaning.

Our journey took us to Rome, the Eternal City, to take part in the celebration of Family in the Year of Faith. Accompanying me were my husband Paul, youngest daughter Roisin aged 17 and my mother  Maureen age 89. Bishop Liam MacDaid  from diocese of Clogher led our delegation. We gathered in St Peter’s Square on Saturday at 2.30 as the national delegation representing the Irish Episcopal Conference. The square began to fill up with families, priests, bishops and cardinals from all over the world. The setting of St Peter’s Square with the domed basilica at the top is so impressive, but was made all the more wonderful by the warm autumn sun that bathed us all on that Saturday afternoon. As we looked back there was such colour with banners, flags and large bunches of balloons which were distributed throughout the crowd.  There was an air of festivity about the proceedings. Laughter and chat could be heard all around. The richness of all the nationalities borne out by the different languages and national dress added to the wonderful spectacle and reminded us we are all brothers and sisters in Christ sharing the same belief. We felt so proud to be Catholic.

The programe began to unfold at 3pm with music and reflections. Around 5pm Pope Francis entered the square to a rapturous welcome and he in turn greeted children bearing balloons. The day continued with testimonials from missionary families, including one young couple who wished to get married but were unemployed and could not afford to do so. There was music and song, drama and acrobats. Pope Francis addressed the crowd with a simple message: He encouraged families to pray, and asked that we say please, thank you and sorry.  We say please so as not to be forceful in family life, we say thank you, thank you for love. and lastly sorry, as we all make mistakes. He spoke about grandparents, being the wisdom of the family, and he encouraged children to learn from them.

The festivities continued until 6.30 when the Pope went through the square greeting the crowd in his open top vehicle. There were chants of Papa Francesco, with everyone straining to catch a glimpse or touch his hand. He was leaning out  of the car greeting people with such joy in his face, I looked at my mother and saw tears on her cheek, and Rosin enthralled by his presence. I felt truly grateful.

Sunday morning  we were situated on the right hand side of the altar, and beside us were the Irish Grandparents Association. Viewing the crowds from our vantage point one had a great sense of occasion and communion.  The Pope consecrated the altar with incense, the smell of which wafted through the air, reminding us of the solemn celebration of  the Mass at which we were present . The wonderful Gregorian chant elevated our thoughts from the mundane to the spiritual, especially at the Offertory when they recited Ubi CarItas Est Vera. We felt very privileged to be present witnessing the Pope celebrate the Eucharist with the thousands present from all over the World. The Mass ended with the Angelus bells ringing throughout the city as the sun broke through the clouds – a fitting ending to a wonderful morning.

Bishop MacDaid, who had been con-celebrating Mass, joined us and we  slowly made our way out of St Peter’s Square with the crowds of pilgrims.

We sat around a table sharing a meal and discussed the morning’s events. The afterglow of being at something so beautiful and profound sharing  the experience with fellow Christians from all over the world was something that was easily felt but hard to articulate.

Weeks later reflecting on the experience several thoughts come to mind. We spent over four hours each at the informal event on Saturday and the solemn celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday without being aware of the passage of time. In contrast Sunday Mass at home varies from 40 to 60 mins in duration and it can be a struggle to remain focused without the trials of daily life impinging on our consciousness. So what allowed us to be truly present that weekend? Was it the stepping out of our everyday lives? The journey with family and new found friends? The setting of St Peter’s Square? The presence of Pope Francis? The crowds of fellow Christians? In truth, it was probably all of these which allowed us to be more open to the presence of God. During the weekend we were moved by small acts of kindness which was shown to us by a local grocer and a young woman who was cleaning the Basilica of San Giovanni di Laterano. The spiritual experience of such a weekend made us more aware and appreciative of the goodness that exists in every day life, and how we should strive to maintain such awareness in our dealings with others. Another aspect of the weekend was, sharing the experience with three generations of family. We are each at a different places in our faith journey; I have witnessed my mother’s steadfast faith; it is intertwined in her very being, every action and decision in her life is guided by the Holy Spirit – a total acceptance of the will of God, a life lived in prayer. This is my inheritance and as I write this I am asking myself: what will  our children inherit from us? As I look at Roisin, her faith journey beginning, this pilgrimage to Rome she tells me has opened her eyes to a worldwide Church; she feels she has a personal connection to Pope Francis and is inspired by his humanity. She has become restless with the social media and its superficiality. She is looking for meaning in her life. What a great experience at seventeen years of age!

Finally we are so grateful as a family to have been afforded the privilege of such an experience, to Bishop Liam MacDaid for the wonderful company, conversations and laughter that greatly contributed to our spiritual experience.

Breda McDonald
Council for Marriage and the Family