Sunday, October 25, 2015

(162) Attending the Eighth World Meeting of Families and the Visit of Pope Adventure and a Great Experience


            The Pope did indeed turn Philadelphia upside down without even trying.  The city and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia went all out to prepare for him as though he were a superstar.  Traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike well over 150 miles west of Philadelphia a week before his arrival, there were electronic signs warning drivers to expect congestion on the weekend of September 26-27.  On our way to attend the wedding of a relative in northern New Jersey, we were blessed to stay at the Retreat House of the beautiful National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa (Patroness of Poland) in Doylestown, an hour away from the wedding and an hour north of Philadelphia.  Jaga worked it out with the Polish priests there.  Almost as big as the original shrine in Poland, the American Czestochowa has brought Polish Americans together and people of all ethnic backgrounds closer to Mary and her Son.

       After the wedding, we thought:  “Why not make our wedding trip into a pilgrimage retreat at a fabulous shrine, attend the World Meeting of Families September 22-25, and see Pope Francis on the weekend?”  So we commuted each day by train to downtown Philadelphia.  For once it paid off to be a senior citizen…..only a dollar each way. 

What brought Pope Francis to the United States was the Eighth World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia which attracted close to 20,000 people from all over the world in the huge Pennsylvania Convention Center which covers over three city blocks.  The purpose was to bring families together and to search for and learn about ways to strengthen the family.  The idea is that these lay men and women, priests, and religious return to their own countries to promote and strengthen families as leaders, teachers, catechists, and models of what marriage and family should be.  This is crucial because families are the building blocks of Society and all over the world the institution of Marriage and the Family are in a very serious crisis.  When the family disintegrates, Society and the whole Country will eventually disintegrate into chaos.

Pope Francis summed it all up in his message printed in the Family Guidebook for the Eighth World Meeting of Families started by Pope St. Pope John Paul II in 1994: “The mission of the Christian family, today as yesterday, is that of proclaiming to the world by the power of the Sacrament of Marriage, the love of God.  From this very proclamation a living family is born and built, one which sets the hearth of love at the center of its human and spiritual dynamism.  If, as St. Irenaeus said, ‘the glory of God is man fully alive’, then so a family, which, by the grace of the Lord, lives to the full its vocation and mission glorifies Him…….to rediscover ever again the royal road, in order to live and proclaim the grandeur and beauty of marriage and the joy of being and making a family.” 
            Each of the four daily sessions began with a Mass attended by all in a huge auditorium the size of two football fields side by side with numerous TV screens or jumbotrons.  Each liturgy was concelebrated by an army of priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals.  The entrance procession, led by an honor guard of 30 to 40 Fourth Degree Knights in full regalia, took 15-20 minutes.  We recognized Bishop Conlin and were told that Bishop Monforton was there too.  Joe Schmidt, the diocesan Marriage Ministry Coordinator, and his family were sent to represent our diocese.  Many other couples, some with children and even babies, attended from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  The beautiful choir was accompanied by a symphonic orchestra with hymns in English, Spanish, and even Vietnamese.  Attendees had portable receivers to hear translations in Spanish, French. Italian, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.

        The Extended Holy Family with saints Ann & Joaquim, parents of Mary.
                    The painting, now in the Archdiocesan Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul                                            of Philadelphia, was created especially for the World Meeting of Families.

The theme of the Eighth World Meeting of Families is “LOVE IS OUR MISSION: the Family Fully Alive” which is “the Sanctuary of Love and Life”.  The organizers brought in nationally known speakers for keynote talks and breakout sessions with questions such as Bishop Robert Barron, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila (perhaps a future Pope), Cardinal Robert Sarrah of Africa, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, Dr. Scott Hahn of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Pastor Rick Warren, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Dr. Robert George of Princeton, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, President of Christendom College, Dr. Janet Smith of the University of Dallas, Christopher West, Dr. Gregory & Lisa Popcak, Curtis Martin of FOCUS, etc.  There were many volunteer guides to direct us to the location of each talk.  The concepts of the home as a domestic church and parents as the principal educators of the Faith were frequently emphasized.  See For videos of selected keynote and breakout talks go to
EWTN was there to cover the proceedings with live and taped interviews.  Many book publishers, lay and religious organizations as Catholic Familyland of Bloomingdale Ohio, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Medical Association, etc., promoted their apostolates in a huge exhibition hall.    The Knights of Columbus had probably the largest exhibit space in the huge exhibition hall, giving away strong double linked rosaries blessed by Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori, Vatican documents on the family, information about the Knights, etc.  They also gave away transparent backpacks to early registrants. 

           Most enjoyable and satisfying was meeting people from such countries as the Philippines, Viet Nam, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti, Columbia, Peru, etc.  Knowing Spanish made it more fun.  When I passed groups of Mexicans with their common jackets, I enjoyed shouting to them “Viva Mexico; Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe”.  A Vietnamese nun related how she once feared prison for attending Mass in Viet Nam of the 70’s.  Today one can practice the faith there, but the Church is very restricted as in Cuba.  All of this gave me the insight that we are all one Church of many different cultures, races, and languages, but all united as parts of the Mystical Body of Christ in our love of the Lord, our loyalty to the Pope and the traditional family according to Church teaching.   Upon receiving the Eucharist together, we were in communion with Christ Himself and each other…….a little foretaste of Heaven.

Some of the participants in the Eighth World Meeting of Families from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Haiti, and the U.S.             

The exhibits had to be taken down for security reasons Thursday evening, a day before the close of the proceedings at the Pennsylvania Convention Hall.  All over Philadelphia there were “Welcome Pope Francis” signs.  In stores people took selfies with a life size cardboard image of Pope Francis.  On Friday most businesses were closed and the trains were on their reduced Weekend Schedule.  On Saturday and Sunday only train stations with ample parking space were open; so we had to figure out how to get to the closest stop.  No vehicles were allowed in the city.  Strategic intersections were barricaded with concrete highway barriers.  It was great to safely jaywalk in the middle of normally very busy four lane boulevards. 
Deacon John Sebastian got hold of one of the images 
and forced Pope Francis to be a Chicago Cubs fan.  
Pope Francis is actually much bigger than the image.
            Independence Mall.  On Saturday we walked some 7 blocks from the downtown train station to the four block long Independence Mall for a program which included a speech by Pope Francis. Providentially, somebody in the train had given us vouchers which we exchanged for tickets hung around our necks.  The ticket policy kept the numbers down and kept troublemakers out.  We ran into several anti-Catholic groups; in front of the security checkpoint at Independence Square a large group greeted us with signs such as “Is the Pope the Antichrist?” and loudspeakers blaring:  “Mary is a sinner…….the Bible says to never call anyone father or papa (Pope in Spanish)”…..only in America. In some Muslim countries, such behavior would be considered blasphemy punishable by death.  Jaga couldn’t take it and proceeded to evangelize them and a lively debate between us and them ensued.  It was friendly and we departed giving them hugs.  Later in the day we got into it again with some youths handing out anti-catholic propaganda and again departed with hugs.  At least we diverted them away from other people and they had to recognize that Catholic Christians know how to love.

People sat on the grass and we sat on a window ledge.  The program included symphonic music, folk dancing, a song by an opera star, and a speech by Dr. Robert George on our eroding Religious Freedom which all began at Independence Hall behind him.  Finally, the Pope arrived.  All we could see was a tiny white speck in the distance, but thanks to eight or so jumbotrons, we had a very good view of what you saw in your living room.  However, we experienced the excitement of being there, the atmosphere, the comradery with the other people, etc.  It was heartwarming to see how his kind face communicated love to all, especially to the babies he kissed.  The Pope spoke in beautiful and clear Spanish with English subtitles on the jumbotrons, emphasizing the tremendous importance of the family with allusions to religious liberty & immigration.  He humbly concluded with “Reza por mí un poquito (pray for me a little).

            Festival of Families. Then came a 14 block hike to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Festival of Families and again we passed through a security checkpoint.  Our daily 45 minute rosary walks prepared us well.  This time we had good glimpses of Pope Francis in his well lit popemobile at about 8 pm.  Although we didn’t know that he would give another talk there, but we left, tired from a rather grueling day.  See the map at

A view from the altar of the million or so people who attended the closing Papal Mass.
     For the 4 pm Papal Mass on Sunday we hitched a ride on one of the two buses that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Doylestown contracted.  All vehicles had to park at the ATT Sports Complex for professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey in South Philadelphia.  From there we had to take a train to downtown Philadelphia and hike 12 blocks to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway security checkpoint for the closing outdoor Mass.  There were local police, state police, National Guard, TSA, Secret Service all over the place.  The security was unbelievable.  We arrived at the security checkpoint at 10 am and waited in a three block line until 1 pm when we finally got through.  Examining us were Secret Service agents who said that the security procedure was the same as at the White House.  One group came from Iowa at about 1 pm and by the time they got through security five hours later, it was all over. 

We slept on the ground along the mile long Franklin Parkway, waiting for the Pope’s arrival.  We again saw him in his popemobile that went up and down the parkway.  Exciting was the atmosphere and the feeling of solidarity with up to a million other pilgrims both within and outside the ticketed area.  Next to us some guys from Steeler Nation kept me posted on the game with the St. Louis Rams.  At the Kiss of Peace, one of them greeted me with “Peace…….they won”.  That did put me at peace even though the Steeler star quarterback was knocked out of the game. 

       It was a beautiful Mass with an excellent choir and instrumental accompaniment.  We saw the altar in the distance, but not the Pope.  Again thank you, Jumbotron for a good view which you, dear reader, also had on EWTN.  Again Pope Francis gave his homily in Spanish with the translation on the numerous jumbotrons.  The Pope concelebrated with an army of priests (at least a couple hundred), who distributed Holy Communion.  Each priest brought the Eucharist under a yellow and white umbrella held by a server.  For video or text links to all of his talks and press conferences in the USA & Cuba with a choice of seven languages on the Vatican website (English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese with some in Arabic, click on

Ella and Mary Ann Bokovitz were there and so was our daughter Naomi, but we didn’t see any of them.  She was among three busloads of students from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  We contacted her by cell phone, but couldn’t find the flag of Sweden she was under.  There were so many people that it was hard to move; let alone find one among a million.  The students made the 8 hour trip and back in one day without missing any classes.  So we had five people representing St. Louis Church.

Then we hiked back to the downtown railroad station for the train to our bus at the sports complex.  The line at the train station was five blocks long with a two hour wait.  Again the loudspeakers, but this time the Latinos, who might have been in the majority, drowned them out with “Viva el Papa”.  The crowd was very orderly and patient on both days except for just a little bit of pushing getting onto the train which is common in big Latin American cities.  The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the city spent months preparing for this huge undertaking……first the World Meeting of Families and then the visit of the Pope.  Overall, they did a great job in organizing it.  The only major flaw was the inordinate amount of time it took to pass through the security checkpoints, which prevented thousands of people from attending the papal Mass.

In the middle ages pilgrims had to walk to holy sites for weeks with the danger of robbers.  But at least they didn’t have to put up with long lines, long waits, and security checks worse than boarding an airplane.  It was all a great experience, but a rather grueling one.  For the texts of all of the Pope’s speeches and homilies in the USA, go to and/or

A Postscript: Why All of This Fuss Over Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family?
(See the next Blog #163)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

(161) The Principal Educators of the Faith.......Parents!!!!!

The 2015 First Holy Communion Class.  From left to right are Eden Stapleton, Yuriana Reyes, Addison Nolan, and Reagan Skidmore.  Behind them are Noah Lewis, Ayden Stapleton and Fr. Thomas Hamm.

            Who is primarily responsible for passing down the faith to the next generation?  Priests?  Nuns?  CCD teachers?  Wrong on all counts!  According to Canon Law and as St. Pope John Paul II in his 1994 “Letter to Families” brought out, it’s us; we "Parents are the first and most important educators of their (our) own children”.  It’s an inalienable right and duty.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1653) reiterates that. OUR MOST IMPORTANT JOB AS PARENTS IS TO PREPARE OUR KIDS FOR ETERNITY.

             In a moving homily Fr. Thomas Loya gave at the funeral of his father, an Archie Bunker type, he recalled him telling his five children:   I have one purpose for being on this earth—to bring you kids into this world and into the Faith and help this family get to Heaven.”  Parents, that’s what it’s all about!!  For a copy of this homily and a glimpse into the agony and the ecstasy of Joe Loya’s 61 years of marriage, go to my blog #129.

            Are we faithful to that great mission on which we will be judged when we die and face our creator?  If we don’t do our jobs, the salvation of our children will be in danger.  Many will fall away from the Church and eventually America will become a godless secular society with little or no religious freedom left.  Christ commanded us to “Teach all nations……” (Matthew 28:19-20) before ascending into Heaven.  That includes first and foremost…….our kids.  Every mother and father is a domestic missionary with the mission of transforming their homes into domestic churches and passing down the faith.

            Do we meet our grave responsibility by simply dumping our kids off at CCD and then picking them up after shopping?  Then with a secular environment we do no follow-up until next week when we again dump our kids off at CCD?  Job done; mission accomplished?  Absolutely NOT!  According to the letter of the law, maybe.  According to the spirit, absolutely NOT.  The “preeminent role” of the Parish School of Religion (PSR) is to help parents meet their critical responsibility.  One hour a week of CCD is only a small although very important part of the spiritual formation of each child……a supplement and reinforcement of what the parents are supposed to be doing at home.

            We are in a vicious cycle that we must stop.  Teachers do their very best to prepare the children for first Confession and Holy Communion.  Then some disappear for a couple of years and return for Confirmation class.  Once confirmed, some kids see the sacrament as a passage into adulthood and an end to catechesis…….”I’m done; I graduated”; and then you don’t see them again.  Years later it repeats with the grandchildren.  No wonder there are so many fallen away Catholics!  When they become parents, the cycle repeats if they are still in the Church.  PARENTS, WE TOGETHER MUST BREAK THIS VICIOUS CYCLE.  Parish school of religion (PSR) classes are only the beginning of learning the faith and must be followed up at home, college (Catholic school or Newman Club) and beyond for the rest of our lives.  We love our sports and traveling teams, but so much more important is passing on the faith.  Sunday games should never prevent our kids from attending Mass (there’s Saturday too).  OUR FUTURE IN ETERNITY DEPENDS UPON IT.
          Some kids come into PSR already well versed in the faith.  Their parents are doing a wonderful job!  But sad to say, most kids come to CCD knowing little or nothing about the faith.  They don’t know their prayers and have no idea regarding basic concepts of the Faith that they should have learned at home.  Teachers must start at point zero and teach these concepts over and over again because the kids forget from one week to the next.  Frustrated teachers complain about this again and again.  Then the values and virtues they teach are often cancelled out by the public schools, television, movies, friends in the neighborhood, and other aspects of our secular culture where even our constitutional freedom of religion is being eroded.

           It always makes things so much easier and more effective if parents help the teacher……review the concepts taught in class with the kids.  Practice the prayers from class at nightly family prayer.  Parents are welcome to sit in on CCD classes and help the teacher.  It would be a HUGE help if the parents would go over with the kids the outlines, handouts, and pages of the book which are covered in class. Teachers desperately need reinforcement at home and help from the parents.  It would be so much easier to cover more material in the precious little time available to teach the faith if the teachers could give the children modest homework assignments and reading selections while the parents conscientiously make sure that the kids do them.  In days gone by, most Catholic kids went to a Catholic school staffed by an abundance of priests, sisters, and brothers.  .  They had Religion class five days a week and the faith was integrated into all subjects.  On top of that, there was a Catholic culture at home.  The teachers in our Parish School of Religion cannot do it by themselves in one hour a week.  Parents, HELP!

Bedtime stories that promote virtue and others based upon the Bible and the saints are a must and the kids read them for fun.   Our own parish library has many such books for children which you can borrow by simply signing them out.  Catholic books, magazines, and newspapers are easily obtained for the home; some are available free in the back of our church.  Musts in the family library are a Bible and the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).

The most effective teaching is the example of parents conscientiously living the faith.  On the other hand the example of parents neglecting their faith does immense harm to the children, perhaps for the rest of their lives and eternity too.  Most effective in the spiritual formation of young Karol Woytyła (now St. Pope John Paul II) was observing his widower father fervently praying late at night.  Dr. James Dobson, told his children: “I’ll be waiting for you in heaven.  You be there.”   Grandparents also have an important role in handing down the faith with their example, stories, and advice, especially if the parents are failing in their duty. 

  Another big problem is that many parents don’t know the faith either and for that reason do a poor job with their kids and do not volunteer to be CCD teachers.  Statistics show the sad reality is that the average Catholic in the pew does not know his or her faith.  Our parish has a solution for that.  Our pastor, a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, gives great classes for young and older adults every Wednesday while the kids have CCD.  It is scheduled for the same time as PSR so that parents could drop off their kids for CCD and stick around for the class instead of going to Walmart. 

The Future of the Church
 We all can learn more about the faith through daily Bible reading, conferences sponsored by the diocese and the annual youth rally.  The diocese organizes great catechetical workshops for school and CCD teachers, marriage seminars, men’s conferences, women’s conferences, right to life seminars, etc.  The featured speaker at the October 11 diocesan Youth Rally is a fabulous speaker, Leah Darrow……a top model who underwent a profound conversion to become a role model on dress and chastity.  There are so many opportunities for adults and youth to become knowledgeable regarding the faith, but we must take advantage of them.  Of course there are good Catholic books, newspapers, magazines, internet websites, CDs, etc. Our parish website has an archive of Fr. Tom’s excellent columns in past bulletins at My blog at has this article and all of my past bulletin inserts.
            Our kids are the future of the Church and the entire USA.  The Country needs a moral Society in order to function.  A country cannot be a moral society without Faith.  Otherwise, we would need a policeman on every corner to maintain order and public safety because everybody does what is right in his/her own mind as their own popes.   George Washington saw “religion and morality” as “indispensable supports to political prosperity.”  John Adams, our second president, observed:  “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…….Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people."

            Our children depend so much upon their parents to pass down the faith especially in secular America**.  When our homes with the help of our pastor become domestic churches within The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, parish renewal will be complete and our after-Mass prayer for renewal will be answered in full.  No family has achieved the ideal domestic church, but we can aspire to it.  Only a step to two in that direction is progress. 

**St. Pope John Paul II foresaw secular societies as ours in Catechesi Tradendae   (see, a wonderful summary of Church teaching, wrote in 1979 (#68): “…in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, the ‘Church of the home’ (Domestic Church) remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus, there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children’s catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal.”  Of course a good Parish School of Religion is a big help, but we must take advantage of it.  We owe it to the kids to become knowledgeable of the faith by taking advantage of such opportunities as Fr. Tom’s Bible Study, catechetical workshops, marriage seminars, men’s conferences, women’s conferences, right to life seminars, etc. as well as reading, CDs, EWTN, and Catholic websites.