A portion of the 2018 World Meeting of Families pilgrims from the Shrine Church of St. Gerard Majella, Hollis, received a special send-off blessing during a vigil Mass Aug. 18.
These pilgrims then joined others from throughout the diocese and traveled to Ireland as universal witnesses whose purpose will serve two-fold: representing the Body of Christ and accompanying the country with prayer and taking those graces right back to Brooklyn and Queens.
“In Ireland, they’re going through a very traumatic, almost de-Christianizing experience with what has happened in the last few months,” said Father Josephjude Gannon, pastor of St. Gerard parish.
“If we can go there to help that Church re-energize itself and to refocus on the Holy Spirit, great. But also then we have a responsibility to bring that same witness back to our communities here to live in God’s graces to experience the Holy Spirit here as family.”
The diocesan contingent traveled to Dublin, Ireland, on a pilgrimage led by Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, which will culminate with a visit by Pope Francis to the country.
Restore a Sense of Faith
In a March interview with The Tablet, the diocese’s Irish ministry leader, Father Christopher Heanue, said that he hoped the pope’s visit would be a reminder of true, Christian families and the importance of family unity and the dignity of human life.
He also said that he hopes the pope’s visit will bring back a sense of faith, which has been forgotten or muted by the culture.
Ireland had some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the western world until earlier this year, when the country overwhelmingly repealed their eighth amendment and voted abortion into law.
According to government plans, abortions would be permitted within the first trimester, or three months of pregnancy. A doctor or medical professional would have a legal obligation to discuss the options with the pregnant woman. Three days must pass and then the woman can choose to terminate her pregnancy.
Giving Witness to Family Life
“Families are being attacked so much that this is why it’s important for us to go there and to give our witness that we still can have a good family,” said St. Gerard Majella parishioner Denise Das, who is attending with her husband.
“It doesn’t matter how it is – a family is important. Children are very important for us so I think that’s good to go there.”
The trip becomes her second time attending the World Meeting of Families since she attended the 2015 event in Philadelphia, Pa.
For Das, she wants to bring back the knowledge she will gain in order to better serve her parish community and instill traditional family values.
“I’m a catechist and I see that many of my kids live in a world that’s so confused for them because their family split,” she added.
“It’s important to see that there is a community that is there for them, that they can trust. We become a family in certain ways. We bring everybody together. We need to share experiences.”
United Across the Miles
Throughout the trip, the traveling prayer pilgrims from the Hollis parish will unite themselves spiritually with their fellow parishioners by praying for them by name – thanks to Father Gannon’s initiatives before the trip.
“I’m also taking the parish list of every single one of our families, over 500 of them, by name, and we’re going to pray for them by name everyday,” he said. “So every day we’ll be praying for the families here as well as their intercessions.”
The Irish priest also placed a small Our Lady of Knock statue next to the altar and asked the families to write their prayers down on paper so that he can also offer them in person when the diocesan group visits the National Marian Knock Shrine in County Mayo, located more than 100 miles west of Dublin.
Not only will Father Gannon’s spiritual family make the pilgrimage with him, but also his actual family, as his niece, Marie Tronsor, chose to attend.
The second-grade schoolteacher said that she decided to attend the World Meeting of Family since she has somewhat outgrown her many World Youth Day pilgrimages.
“I think that it’ll be great to see the people from all around the world coming together in Ireland, or really anywhere, and showing how strong our faith is today, especially in the conflicts of today to see that God is here and God is around us and people around the world know that,” she said.