“Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive”, was the theme of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September. Inspired by the early Church Father, Saint Irenaeus, who wrote “the glory of God is man fully alive”, as an international, ecumenical conference in Philadelphia, and one of the largest events on the East Coast, it is no surprise that Eastern and the broader Philadelphia area has been abuzz over the World Meeting of Families. A Templeton alumna, Bethany (Musser) Meola, works for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. Heavily involved in the ministry of building up the family, Bethany was able to attend the Meeting, and shared some of her thoughts and insights with us.
What is the goal and history of the World Meeting of Families?
“The World Meeting of Families (WMOF) was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1994 to strengthen the family and bring families together. The goal is to explore the critical role the family plays in society and give families opportunities to talk about the challenges and blessings that all families have.”
Who attended the WMOF? Was it mostly professionals like yourself, or families?
“Most people I met in attendance were not professionals, but people of all ages; families, and lay-people working in the world. I met one family who had driven all the way from Argentina, and others from Asia and Africa. It was very exciting to encounter families from all over the world and be able to ask each other, “what’s your life like?” The opportunity to see the Pope and hear top-notch speakers drove families from all over the world to attend. It was truly an international and ecumenical event.”
What was your role with and participation in WMOF?
“As part of the Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, our team has been writing reflections on the WMOF Catechesis in order to draw attention to the event. I wrote a few pieces, including one entitled “All Love Bears Fruit”. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops had a huge exhibit at the Meeting, but more importantly I was able to attend many of the events, which will influence my work to come. The Pope gave an address to all the Bishops, where he called them to build up the Church through families, strengthening families and helping them find their vocations. It was a real climax for our whole office to hear him talk about the family and have those words guide us in out work to come.”
What were some of the highlights of the event for you, both personally and professionally?
“The Festival of Families was definitely a high point. It was incredible, to hear the testimonies from six families from all over the world. Everyone there had so much joy and energy, and the Pope seemed to feed off of the energy of the crowds. We were so excited he was there, and he was so excited we were there. His talk was unscripted, he ended up scrapping his scripted text and spoke from his heart about the salvation message and how the family fits into it. I felt like he was speaking to me, he’s 78 years old be he came alive with the joy of the Gospel and love of people.”
What was the most powerful part of the experience?
“I was very impacted by actually being there. It was very powerful to be present, experience the smells and sounds and sights. Life is so virtual, it was a blessing to actually be present. Being in the midst of it brought to mind the powerful tradition of Christian pilgrimage.”
Bethany lives with her husband, Dan, in Washington, D.C. where she works as the Assistant Director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. If you’re interested in reading one of her reflections on the 2015 World Meeting of Families Catechesis, her piece “All Love Bears Fruit” can be found here.