About 200 parishioners from Brooklyn and Queens attended the eighth World Meeting of Families (WMF) in Philadelphia, Sept. 23, as part of a pilgrimage organized by the diocese’s School of Evangelization. Buses left as early as 6 a.m. from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Astoria; St. Michael’s, Sunset Park; Resurrection-Ascension, Rego Park; Our Lady of Miracles, Canarsie; Holy Family-St. Thomas Aquinas, Park Slope.
Upon arriving at the WMF, pilgrims broke into small groups and hurried to different workshops. Attendees listened to internationally known speakers talking about the joys and struggles of life.
Ted Musco, the School of Evangelization’s executive director, said the one-day pilgrimage was an opportunity to witness “an active Church.”
“It’s good for people to know that they are not alone in all this. We are part of a universal church,” he said.
This year, nearly 18,000 participants from more than 100 countries attended the four-day congress, making it the largest-ever WMF.
Emma Peralta, who now lives in Boston, said her family took time off from work and school to join the Brooklyn Diocese’s pilgrimage because they “just could not miss it.” Now parishioners of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the family used to attend St. Joan of Arc, Jackson Heights.
“We decided to come as a family to share this moment and teach my daughter about the faith, so she can see us doing things together,” she said.
A workshop that hit home for Emma and her husband Marco Castro was “See How They Love One Another: The Family and the Faith,” where speakers talked about making time to work, play, talk and pray together.
Meanwhile, their daughter Dayanara, 10, participated in the youth congress. “My favorite part was the scavenger hunt. We had to look for clues and whatever we found was holy like a rosary,” she said.
The Brooklyn pilgrims included 50 youths from the Confirmation class at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Astoria, who participated in a morning session and joined the youth congress in the afternoon.
Joselyne Peña, 17, said she was having a wonderful time at the World Meeting of Families.
“I came because I wanted to learn more about why I’m going to do my Confirmation,” she said. “I wanted to learn something that my life can grow with.”
Richard and Karen Ann St-Cyr, parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Forest Hills, came representing the Worldwide Marriage Encounter (Brooklyn and Queens) and the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns. They said the pilgrimage enriched them and taught them different ways they can teach their seven-month-old daughter what true love is.
“Sacrificial love is a habit that we learn through our family life” and the love given and received within the family, said Karen Ann, referencing one of the workshops. “It was not a mistake that God came into a family.”
Richard said he liked the message that “We need to be models of who Jesus was for us.”
“I loved the correlation that the husband is as Jesus and the wife is as the Church,” which means you have to be willing to lay down your life for the other, he said.
The pilgrims said they felt privileged to join families from across the globe seeking to have a better understanding the family.
Christian and Helen Rada learned that the gifts God imparts to families should be poured out into the community.
Helen, who attended a workshop on the concerns of the urban family, said the presence of God in people’s lives is important and that everything starts with prayer.
“The speakers talked about how the Church is our biggest influence, it promotes our individual well-being, and how do we bring that to our families,” she said.
Her husband, who is the diocesan coordinator for marriage, family life and respect life education, attended a workshop on saintly couples, starting with SS. Joachim and Ann. The speakers explained the universal call to holiness and how married couples strive to help their spouses reach heaven.
“Every day can be a struggle because each had their issues, but they did it out of love, not for themselves but for the other person,” he said. “These families expressed saintly virtues through their vocation of matrimony.”
For Ines Cordero, director of religious education at St. Michael’s Church, the pilgrimage superseded all expectations.
“The speakers were wonderful and shared so much of their knowledge, but more importantly their love of their faith,” she explained.
The workshops she attended with Father Kevin Sweeney, pastor, gave them ideas for St. Michael’s faith formation program.
“We were reminded that as servers of our Lord Jesus we are called to be a voice for our parents… Helping them see the love of God in all the sacrifices they do,” she continued, “Helping them see they are the first teachers of the love of Jesus Christ.”
On the bus back to Rego Park, Angelica Tavares said she gained a lot of information to bring back to her parish. She highlighted one of the messages from Cardinal Robert Sarah, the morning’s keynote speaker, who said the family was a place of healing.
“We need to be open to repentance to go back to God, to have a relationship with him,” she said. “Here I saw that the Church is alive.”