The World Meeting of Families is an event established by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1994, which takes place in a different city every three years. It aims to make concrete the Church’s support for family life and to inspire and encourage families in living the Church’s vision for the family.
Its format is somewhat similar to that of a Eucharistic Congress, familiar to us in Ireland from the 2012 Congress. It involves a programme of talks and workshops, faith discussions, a programme for young people, exhibitions, cultural events, musical performances, a festival of families, and, of course mass every day.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI attended each World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis attended the most recent WMF in Philadelphia in 2015. The WMF now comes under the umbrella of the new Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, established by Pope Francis and headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a Dublin native and former Bishop of Dallas, Texas.
Pope Francis has decided that the 2018 World Meeting of Families will be hosted by the Archdiocese of Dublin. It will be held from 22nd to 26th August 2018 and its theme will be The Gospel of the family: joy for the world. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin is the President of the Meeting, while Fr Timothy Bartlett, a priest of Down and Connor Diocese has been appointed as Secretary General, with Ms Ann Griffin as General Manager, a role she had carried out for the Eucharistic Congress.
While Dublin will be the main location for the WMF itself, all the dioceses of the country will be involved, and this will be an opportunity for the families of all of our parishes to participate. Particular emphasis will be put on Pope Francis’s recent document on love in the family, The Joy of Love (Amoris laetitia), to bring its contents alive to help families live the Gospel together.
Naturally, there has been a lot of interest in the prospect of a visit by Pope Francis for the WMF. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference extended an invitation to the Pope to visit. In various conversations with people he met, Pope Francis informally signalled his intention to travel. Then, earlier this year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin discussed this with the Pope, and Pope Francis answered, ‘I will come, and if I don’t come, my successor will come.’ On 28th November 2016 An Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny TD, visited Pope Francis at the Vatican to formally express the Irish government’s support for a papal visit, and Pope Francis confirmed to him his desire to make the visit. The Pope will visit Dublin for the WMF itself. A visit to Northern Ireland is likely, since Pope Saint John Paul II was unable to visit north of the border due to the troubles during his 1979 visit to Ireland. If the Pope chooses to visit any other parts of Ireland, it will be in the context of the World Meeting of Families, and not a distraction from it.
The organisers consider it important that the whole event and papal visit should have a lasting influence on Church and family life in Ireland, and so the catechetical preparation and follow-up will be emphasised before, during, and after the WMF. The details of the WMF can be found on its website www.worldmeeting2018.ie and links are given there to the social media platforms for the WMF, which will be good sources of breaking news both in the run-up to WMF and during the event itself.
Fr Hugh Clifford