Pope Francis has a busy itinerary for his trip to the U.S., but one of the main reasons he will be coming to Philadelphia is to attend the World Meeting of Families.
The gathering was established by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1992 to look at strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe, according to its website. Francis is taking it to another level, having attracted so many people that this year’s World Meeting of Families will be the largest in history, said Meg Kane, a Papal tour spokesperson with Brian Communications.
And “family” may mean more than traditional families. Survey results released earlier this month by Pew Research Center revealed that Catholics are accepting of a variety of non-traditional families. Almost all who responded to the survey — 90 percent — believe that a married man and woman makes the “ideal” household for raising children, Pew reported. But between 66 and 87 percent said families headed by parents who are single, divorced, unmarried or gay are acceptable, too.
The survey found one in four Catholics has gone through a divorce, and one in 10 has divorced and remarried. Cohabitation is fairly common among Catholics as well, with one in 10 living with but not married to a romantic partner, and more than four in 10 having done so at some point in their lives.
That isn’t surprising to local pastors, though.
“We try to be welcoming of anyone,” said the Rev. Stephen Fernandes, pastor at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Springettsbury Township. “That’s what our faith calls us to be inclusive of everyone.”
That doesn’t mean Catholic teachings about family change, though, he said.
The Church teaches that couples must receive an annulment if they wish for the Church to declare that the spiritual bond of marriage never existed. A couple must already have received a civil divorce before the Church considers annulment.
The Pope recently issued guidance to parishes that reformed that process, simplifying and in some cases quickening the processes, allowing for couples to attain an annulment faster through the Diocese of Harrisburg, according to a statement by Bishop Ronald Gainer. However, the changes don’t alter Catholic teachings on the “permanency” of marriage or reasons annulments are granted.
And in a news release from the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Church’s stance on marriage itself was reaffirmed: “A Catholic marriage is a lifelong, sacramental covenant between a man and a woman, in which they are willing to collaborate with God to bring children into the world.”
The Pope, however, is exemplifying acceptance, Fernandes said. He’s social justice-oriented.
“I think what he’s doing, no other Pope before has done that — the way he’s approaching children, divorced people, even the gay people,” said Catalino Gonzalez, deacon at Church of the Immaculate Conception-St. Mary’s. “He’s more open to people.”
For example, Francis said that women who have had abortions will be able to seek and obtain forgiveness through their local priests, according to a news release.
Fernandes also thinks society in general has become more accepting of different kinds of lifestyles and, because Catholics are a part of culture too, that acceptance filters down in religion as well.
But the church doesn’t necessarily always agree with societal shifts.
“I see a lot of brokenness out there and people trying to do their best with brokenness,” said the Rev. Jonathan Sawicki, pastor at Immaculate Conception-St. Mary’s. Part of that brokenness, he said, is the weakening of the family unit with couples giving up on marriage for divorce too quickly.
What about perseverance and forgiveness, Sawicki said, or couples working within their situation?
He looks at cohabitation as a crisis of commitment, with people not wanting to settle down. He thinks people should be committing to each other and working through hard times in their relationship.
“It’s not a culture of repairs,” he said. “It’s if the chair breaks, don’t fix it, go buy a new one.”
Holy Infant Parish deacon Joseph Kramer also thinks times have changed.
“When I was a young man and engaged to my wife, cohabitating was practically unheard of,” Kramer said.
Now, it’s very common, he said, and when cohabitating couples come to the church to get married, the church rejoices, he said, because they’re trying to do the right thing.
The Pope coming to the U.S. will impact a lot of people because, according to the Pew study, 45 percent of Americans are Catholic or connected to Catholicism. About 8 percent of those people weren’t raised Catholic and aren’t Catholic but still say they have some connection to the Church through a Catholic parent, spouse or by attending Mass a few times per year.
Nine percent are ex-Catholic and another nine percent are considered a cultural Catholic, meaning they don’t identify Catholicism as their religion but do identify as Catholic in some other way, by attending mass, for example, or by having been raised in the church.
One factor in that large percentage, Fernandes said, may be that Catholicism is a unified faith: Catholics have a leader in Rome, Pope Francis, who brings everyone together, whereas non-Catholic denominations are split into different groups.
The faith is also often inherited, Sawicki said.
“We were a church of the great migration, so many of the people whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents, immigrated from old countries like Europe, they were Catholic,” he said. “Even those who have fallen away still feel a connection.”
What locals have to say about the Pope’s visit
“I think it’s a wonderful thing and it shows the holy father is not just interested in the goings on in where he’s from, he’s concerned about everyone including people all over world, and you can see that in his ministry.”
—Joseph Kramer, Deacon at Holy Infant Parish in York Haven
“I hope that he shows the face of Christ and of his church to a world which needs the message of Jesus Christ. We’re trying to solve problems according to human wisdom and the pope is giving us the wisdom of Jesus Christ.”
—the Rev. Jonathan Sawicki, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception-St. Mary’s
“I’m most looking forward to actually seeing the pope in person. I will listen closely to his homily and spend a few days studying his message and how it pertains to me.”
—Tim Blessing, member of Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Dallastown
“I think it’s great that he’s coming over here. He’s a large force in the world right now and there’s a lot of people both Catholic and not Catholic that are paying attention to him. Hopefully he will show us a way to keep family together.”
—Jerry Kammerdiener, St. Joseph parish in York
“It’s the closest to God that I will ever get on Earth. I accept anything he says. Even if I’m not within camera reach of him, it’s an experience of a lifetime.”
—Christine Adams, member of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Dallastown
“It’s a wonderful thing, especially a popular pope like Francis, coming to our state and generating the kind of response that he is. There’s good and bad, good in (the) sense that everyone’s excited for the visit, but bad for those that can’t get a ticket.”
—Stephen Fernandes, pastor at St. Joseph parish in York
“I think he’s going toward the value of family. I’m pretty sure he’s going to make an impact here in the U.S. Myself, I love the way he’s going traditionally back to the church.”
—Catalino Gonzalez, deacon at Church of the Immaculate Conception-St. Mary’s
“I’m looking forward to a day of community and unity with fellow Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I’m excited to hear what Pope Francis’s message is to the people of the United States.”
—Theresa Anderson, member of St. Rose of Lima in York
“I am looking forward to simply being in attendance with Pope Francis. I feel that he is reaching out to people of all different backgrounds. I look forward to his message of love that has been a theme throughout his papacy. I hope to hear about how we as an American nation can move forward to helping those in need in the face of challenges.”
—Catherine Sechrist, member of St. Joseph Parish in York
Locals volunteer in Philadelphia for papal visit
Two volunteers from The Salvation Army of York are among 100 staff and volunteers from Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania scheduled to help the Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services Unit during the papal visit.
The volunteers will be distributing food and beverages throughout the city to thousands of emergency responders and municipal workers in the city for Pope Francis’ visit.
Over two days, EDS expects to hand out 93,500 pre-packaged lunches and hot dinners courtesy of Wawa.
World Meeting of Families
Jan Swarthout of York Township will be volunteering for the World Meeting of Families with a friend from Gettysburg. She was assigned the duty of passing out volunteers’ uniforms at the convention center for six hours on the Monday of the gathering. The uniforms include a T-shirt, rain gear and a backpack with a snack inside.
The friends will be renting a town house in Philadelphia for the entire week.
“I thought it would be nice to volunteer to help because that’s what it’s all about,” Swarthout said. “Family, helping each other, volunteering is something I wanted to do.”
Sacred Heart Parish to watch Pope’s mass on jumbo screens
Sacred Heart Parish in Spring Grove is hosting a watch party for the Pope’s mass in Philadelphia on Sunday, Sept. 27.
The live simulcast of the event will be projected on jumbo screens in the church as well as outside, weather permitting, according to a news release.
The parish is inviting the community of York and Adams counties no matter your faith tradition to join them for the free event.
“Pope Francis has become one of the most beloved spiritual leaders of our time, and his words of love, compassion and mercy apply to all of us regardless of the church we worship in,” an invitation to local church leaders said.
They will begin with praise and worship music at 3:30 p.m. before the mass starts at 4 p.m.
Afterward, the Rev. Thomas Hoke will prepare a simple meal of homemade soup and bread for everyone. Also in keeping with the teachings of Pope Francis, the parish will be collecting nonperishable donations.
There will be parking, restrooms, games for kids, seating and parking available.
By the numbers
Percentage of Catholics who say these arrangements are acceptable for raising children:
• 94 percent: Married mother and father
• 84 percent: Unmarried parents living together
• 66 percent: Gay or lesbian couple
• 87 percent: Single parent
• 83 percent: Divorced parents
For more findings from the survey, visit: www.pewforum.org/2015/09/02/u-s-catholics-open-to-non-traditional-families/