WATERLOO — Pam Kane and Donna Favia hoped to return from the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with a magic-bullet-type program they could implement at St. Francis and St. Clare Parish to help get children and their parents fired up about their faith. They returned from Philadelphia, however, with something less tangible than a program but much more powerful.
"We came back with the zeal of wanting to spread the word that needs to be spread desperately," said Favia, catechetical leader at the parish, which has worship sites in Waterloo and Seneca Falls.
Many of the speakers at the conference, which was held Sept. 22-25, said there was no one specific program that could help all parishes, added Kane, who facilitates the parish’s religious-education programs.
"The message I heard loud and clear while we were there was … we have to take back with us a love for Christ that’s contagious," Kane said. "When we get back, we have to spread that love to two people, and then it’s up to those two people to spread it to four more, and that’s how we’re going to spread change in our culture and our churches. It was so simple but profound."
Although the prospect of attending a Mass with Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families’ conclusion obviously was very tempting, Kane and Favia said their initial interest in the conference was sparked by its strong focus on Catholic family life. For the past few months both women have been encouraging St. Francis and St. Clare parishioners to embrace Strong Catholic Families, Strong Catholic Youth, which is a nationwide initiative intended to help parents share their Catholic faith with their children by living it out as a family.
"The idea is that in order to raise our children in the faith — which is, looking ahead, the life of the church — we have to strengthen our families, parents, grandparents. We have to offer support to our families," Kane said.
In order to do that, Kane and Favia have been trying to forge connections between the various ministries and initiatives in the parish. They have encouraged the Knights of Columbus to offer volunteer opportunities whole families can participate in and asked representatives of the parish’s social-ministry committee to talk to students in faith-formation classes and engage those students’ parents.
"With all of our programs, we’re trying to do a lot more family-focused catechesis as opposed to just child-focused catechesis," Kane said.
Kane and Favia were hoping to network with other Catholics and catechists in Philadelphia and gather some ideas to help them implement that catechetical shift.
"I honestly thought that’s what I was looking for, and honestly just looking for some blessing from being in Philadelphia when the pope was there, … and be able to bring that back," Kane said.
Both women said they were overwhelmed by the number of solid, faithful speakers who gave presentations during the conference, and they frequently split up and attended different presentations so they could bring as much information as possible back to the parish. The daily Masses offered at the convention center were attended by 20,000 participants, many of whom were there with their families, said Favia, who remarked that she’d never seen so many large families — with five or more children — in one place before. Kane said she was struck by the number of fathers who were at the conference and were actively involved in caring for and playing with their children.
"It was just a wonderful thing to see. It renews your faith that families are alive and well," she said.
As inspiring as the conference’s keynote presentations and breakout sessions were, Kane and Favia agreed that the outdoor Mass with Pope Francis on Sept. 27 definitely was the highlight of their trip. They left their hotel six hours before the afternoon Mass was set to start, hiked across town and waited in line for hours before passing through security checkpoints just in time for Pope Francis’ homily. Although they weren’t anywhere near the altar, they were able to receive Communion from one of the hundreds of priests and deacons who helped distribute Communion to the thousands participating in the Mass.
"After I received Communion, I cried, and I have never cried at Mass before. It was just emotional to even be there," Favia said.
A convert to Catholicism, Kane said she’s always respected the authority and position of the pope, but the Mass deepened her admiration for Pope Francis.
"I was just in love with our faith and his leadership, and his succession to Jesus. It took on a whole new light to me," Kane said.
"I think the biggest thing that I’ll remember from the entire weekend was the energy," Favia remarked. "I was in a city with a million people and we were all there for the same reason, and that just energized me. The energy that I felt the entire week was enough to stay with me the rest of my life."