When Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) was published, the media highlighted points like communion for the divorce. But the nearly 900 people who attended this year’s Diocesan Evangelization Congress dedicated a day to studying the entire document.
Sponsored by the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, the congress – which was held Saturday, Nov. 19, at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows – centered on how the pope’s exhortation provides a holy, real dream of authentic love and family.
Keynote speakers included Matthew Sutton, professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University; Hoffsman Ospino, professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Studies at Boston College; and Deacon Art Miller, an author and radio host who ministers at St. Mary’s parish, Simsbury, Conn.
“‘The Joy of Love’ is a master document on the church’s teaching on the family, marriage, sexuality as well as the virtue of marriage and educating children,” said Sutton, who attends Holy Family Church, Fresh Meadows, with his wife and five daughters. “God is providing a source of comfort and companionship for every family in the word of God.”
Sutton broke down the exhortation’s sections and likened it to Pope Francis washing the feet of 12 people during Holy Thursday liturgy, when the pope made three movements: cleansing, kissing the feet, and accompanying the person. This relates to a culture of encountering families where they are, followed by kissing and acknowledging the reality and challenges families face, and constantly accompanying families, which includes the extended family.
“Our grandparents, they come from a generation where if something is broken you fix it,” Sutton said. “We live in a broken culture, where we throw away our spouses when it gets tough, but remember that generation… Ask for help and reach out when that fixing needs to happen.”
He also talked about the examples of families in Scripture and how humankind starts with a family in Adam and Eve and is redeemed in Jesus’ family. He added that the intent of the pope in having two synods on the family as well as this exhortation is to respond to the brokenness families can experience and remind the faithful that God’s grace is always available for them.
Jeff Delices was one of 29 parishioners from St. Martin of Tours, Bushwick, who participated. He said that breaking down “Amoris Laetitia” allowed attendees to connect with the pope.
Later, Christian Rada – the diocesan coordinator for marriage, family life and respect life education – moderated a panel formed by Sutton; Father Joseph Gibino, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Whitestone; and Rose Ruesing, youth minister for St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Immaculate Conception and Incarnation parishes in Queens.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, the diocesan vicar for evangelization, celebrated the day’s Mass and reflected on how Catholics’ two mothers (their earthly mothers and the Virgin Mary) awaken in others a capacity for love.
“God smiles through Mary our mother to bring a miracle in our lives,” he said in his homily. “In this evangelization congress, in this second to last day of the Year of Mercy, our prayer is that we smile upon people and the Church awaken a desire to welcome” young and old members of the Church to share the joy of being Catholic.
Participants also attended workshops in English, Spanish and Polish. Workshops included topics like engaging parents in their children’s faith formation, strategies for personal encounter at parishes, how youth ministry is truly a ministry to the whole family and how to see the Church as a family of families.
Karina Ludizaca, 15, a catechist at Our Lady of Sorrows, Corona, said the workshops encouraged her to keep sharing God’s love with others in her ministry.
Flor Huaman, also from Our Lady of Sorrows, came to get better tools to help her daughter, who is about to enter adolescence. “This helps us as a family in how to support our children,” she said.
Formed to Transformed
In the afternoon, Professor Ospino discussed Christian love and family. During his bilingual keynote address, Ospino highlighted seven areas of concern and seven areas of hope for the U.S. family. By acknowledging these realities, he said, catechists can better respond to the need of the families they serve. At the end of the day, attendees were energized by the dynamic presentation of Deacon Art Miller, who showed how to go from “formed Catholic to transformed Catholic.”
Catechists Marisa Avallone, from Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Bayside, and Celestine Bright, from Christ the King, Springfield Gardens, said that families are where religious education begins.
Michelle Joseph, director of religious education at St. Martin de Porres, Bedford-Stuyvesant, added that it was crucial to have this day to reflect on the family. “We have to heal the families, we have to be their support system because we are all the body of the Church,” she said.