News and events News World Meeting of Families: Testimonies Father Michael Brandon (All Souls, Coventry) What a privilege and joy to represent the Deanery of Coventry at the World Meeting of Families 2018! What a privilege and joy to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis in Phoenix Park! What a privilege and joy to be a Catholic Christian! And yet and yet……… As the storm clouds hung over Phoenix Park so the storm clouds hang over the whole of our beloved Catholic Church. Many children and vulnerable adults have been abused by bishops, priests and religious sisters over many decades and in countries and churches across the world. Many members of the hierarchy are implicated in cover-ups and putting the reputation of the institution above the welfare of the abused. Cardinals and bishops are forced to resign. Is reform and renewal possible? What gives me hope is you, the People of God. In Croke Park on the Saturday night we celebrated our God given humanity. We celebrated in dance and song. We heard the stories of families from across the world. We heard stories of sadness and tragedy but also of hope and love. We saw Pope Francis listening to those stories and responding with affection and compassion. The Coventry / Rugby / Leamington contingent was picked up by coach at 6.30am on the Tuesday from Holy Family and returned to Holy Family on the following Monday at 5am. This was first and foremost a pilgrimage, hard work, lots of waiting around and lots of walking. What was amazing was how everybody, young and old and everything in between, helped and supported each other. Here is the future of the Church – ordinary families loving each other, praying together and journeying together. I look forward to the World Meeting of Families 2021 in Rome! From Joseph Pap, aged 12 (Lianne Pap's son) The World Meeting of Families in Dublin was a really good experience as it gave me a better understanding of my faith. It has enabled me to live out my faith in everything I do in my everyday life. I went as part of the Archdiocese of Birmingham group that was made up of lots of families from all the deaneries. I was with my mum and twin sister and my dad was able to join up with us at the weekend. The Youth streams during the week at the Pastoral Congress taught me about how we should live our spiritual lives. I have now took on this advice, to help each other grow in faith, and am trying to build on what I do every day. On the Saturday we went to the Festival of Families at Croke Park, it was a brilliant festival with over 80,000 people all coming together to celebrate the most important aspect of life – Family. It was really special as we were together as a whole family and part of the bigger family of the Church. Pope Francis gave an address to everyone and he reminded us all to use three simple words – please, thankyou & sorry. The Holy Father, on Sunday at the Papal Mass, said in his Homily at Phoenix Park – ‘may you go back to your homes and become a source of encouragement to others’. This has inspired me to share my faith more and it shows me that if every person at Mass does the same it can be really powerful. Sharing the Joy of Love will let everyone know how special they are in God's eyes. Nino Pap (Lianne Pap's husband) The World Meeting of Families was an unforgettable experience even though I was only able to be there for the final two days. On Saturday at Croke Park seeing so many people coming together, from all over the World, united in their faith is something that has made a huge impression on me. As part of the Archdiocese of Birmingham group of pilgrims I felt honoured to represent my parish together with my wife and children. Listening to Pope Francis speak he showed how he understood family life in today’s society, referencing the influence of social media as well as the challenges families face today. What stayed with me from his speech was when he was talking about the importance of baptising children as early as you can and he went off script and stressed ‘that for a baby to be baptised the Holy Spirit is poured into their heart.’ He compared children whose parents don’t baptise their child until later in life with those baptised a babies saying those with the Holy Spirit in their hearts are stronger as they have the power of God in them. Being amongst all those people and joined by the Holy Father felt we were all one big family. Seeing the Holy Father and listening to his message was inspiring and humbling. His message of being patient with each other and more involved in family life despite of the challenges of modern living resonated with everyone in the stadium. At the Mass the following day, standing and united in prayer with over half a million people, was so special to be a part of. Katie Wright (Lichfield Deanery) “To fall in Love at first sight is to see God” - Fr Leo PatalinghugI now know why I met my husband nearly 20 years ago! Our lives are true destiny! Being part of the largest group of families from the Birmingham diocese attending WMOF in Dublin has been a massive privilege. We never knew what to expect with it being our first pilgrimage but it certainly took our breath away. It was hard at first with being somewhere new, complications that our wonderful leadership team sorted efficiently, and trying to get to grips with the complete overwhelming feeling of being a part of something so big. Making new friends, not only in our diocese but with families from all over the world, came with the same beautiful message that we were all their to deepen our faith and feel love from God through one another. Listening and witnessing to humbling stories where people from all over the world have expressed how God has touched their lives for the better, I understood God loves everyone and everyone became closer to each other through sharing their personal stories. I cried a lot of joyful tears.My children got to experience first-hand that lots of people from all over the world love God just as much as they do, it felt like they cannot explore the world fully yet so the world came to them! They enjoyed listening to bible stories in a creative way, engaging in activities with other children as well as singing and dancing.Come rain or shine mass was never interrupted and was always exquisite and peaceful. Having rainbows appear after two masses were very special moments indeed.Celebrating a festival and a mass with Pope Francis was a lifelong opportunity and blessing. To feel such love in an arena as he entered each time was heart-warmingly brilliant, an unforgettable experience. The whole atmosphere was heavenly and made you realise that being that close to God, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people, must mean one thing right? God is just pure, true love. I personally have come away with such pride for being a Catholic Christian and with more love in my heart and of understanding ways to make my life better! Rebekah Howard (aged 12) (North Staffs Deanery) The World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity which my family was invited to take part in. I was extremely excited that I would see the Pope in person and go to a special mass said by him. However, the whole week was truly even more phenomenal than I had expected. There were half a million people in Dublin to see the Pope and I feel blessed that I was one of them.The World Meeting of Families event had so many special moments, giving each of our family members their own particular special memory. There were inspirational talks, friendly people and great music! My own favourite part was hearing the band Rend Collective singing in the arena one evening. It was very uplifting and filled me with the joy of the Lord - especially when they sang my favourite hymn ‘My Lighthouse’. I also really enjoyed the Festival of Families at Croke Park on Saturday evening when 500 young people joined in the Riverdance all around the stadium - the noise of all those feet was phenomenal!Going to Dublin has affected my whole life; especially when I reflect on what the Pope said which links to family life. He always seemed to say things in a way that made it easy for me to understand! Just as he asked us to do, I will always remember to use those three little words: please, thank-you and sorry. This is what we must all try to do in our lives in order to help us become close as one family – both at home and also with God as our Father and the whole Church as members of His family together. The Haddon family (Birmingham East Deanery) It's been 10 days since our amazing trip and we still can't get over it. What an absolute experience for us. A really big thank you to Father Dominic Kavanagh from St Augustine Catholic Parish and our Deanery who chose us as their reps. World Meeting of Families this year really brought me and our family closer than before. It brought us closer to HIM too. This year hasn't been easy for our personal relationship, specially with our latest addition Nolan in our family and the big sister Evangeline; work life, love and family life, are really not easy. Through the pilgrimage trip that we did, it brought us back as family, in love for one another. We valued more of our time together. Papa Francis' speech at the concert really touched us; to say sorry, thank you and I love you to the people that we love. Amazing and unforgettable experience. Forever grateful and thankful. I hope we can all implement the message about Love as family from this WMoF in our daily life. With lots of Love, A.M.E.N -Haddons- Mark and Lisa Graham (Oxford North Deanery) My wife Elizabeth (aka Lisa) and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with the Archdiocese of Birmingham to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August, which consisted of a three-day pastoral congress jam-packed full of talks and events, followed by a wonderful weekend where we were joined by Pope Francis himself. The event was started in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and takes place every three years. It is the single largest gathering of families anywhere in the world. We are extremely grateful to Fr. John Hancock, the people of Littlemore parish and the deanery of North Oxford for sponsoring our trip, as we would very likely not have gone without the financial support. We can’t continue without expressing our thanks to our group coordinators Lianne Pap, Natalie Orefice and Faye Fawcett, who did a sterling job organising a crowd of well over a hundred. We are truly indebted to them. It was a hugely rewarding and nourishing trip for us, and as a young, fairly newly married Catholic couple, it was great to be in the presence of so many families from all over the world, with whom we felt a great sense of community. The focus of the meeting was “Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” and was based on Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation titled ‘Amoris Laetitia’, meaning “The Joy of Love”, which reflects on the role of family in the Church and how family life reflects God’s teachings. There was a great emphasis on the fact that the Church is a ‘family of families’, and Jesus Christ, who is the head of the Church, was brought into this world into the family of Nazareth. The Archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Gracias, said in his homily during Mass on the first day of the congress, that the model of family we should all look to is the Holy Family of Nazareth: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He said the Holy Family is a bright light in the dark times, in the midst of great assaults on family values, and on the institution of the family itself. He reminded us that we belong to two families: our own family, but also the spiritual family of the Church, and that we should work hard for the growth and development of both. Throughout the congress, there was the opportunity to meet a multitude of people, priests, nuns and brothers from all holy orders including some we’d never even heard of before, from all over the world and across Ireland. We even met Fran who was from Marriage Care Oxford, who coincidentally we had done our own marriage preparation with just three years ago. We have even signed up to give our own testimonies at future marriage preparation sessions, so for us there has been a tangible outcome from the meeting. I also got a chance to play the organ that would later be played at the Papal Mass, which was a great honour for me! Throughout the meeting, there were some very moving testimonies from families at different stages of their lives, each giving an account of their own journeys. These were often filled with hardship and they shared how their faith in God and the love and support of their own families helped them through the tough times. There were young people describing their hopes and dreams for marriage and the family, as well as long-married couples including a couple who had been married for 74 years and counting! On the Saturday, we and the rest of the travellers of the Birmingham Archdiocese celebrated Mass with Archbishop Bernard Longley. The church where we celebrated Mass was significant in that it was Newman University Church, which was founded by Cardinal Newman, and is the Catholic chaplaincy for the Catholic University of Ireland. Of course, Cardinal Newman has an important connection with the archdiocese, and it was great for us to represent Littlemore at that Mass. In the evening, we attended the Festival of Families at Croke Park stadium, in which 87,000 people along with Pope Francis enjoyed a feast of wonderful music, dance and theatre. Personal highlights included the River Dance with 500 children lined all across the arena, as well as a moving rendition of Ave Maria by tenor Andrea Bocelli. Again, there were powerful testimonies by families from Ireland, India, Zimbabwe and even Iraq. Pope Francis gave an extensive speech in which he reinforced the values of the Catholic Church in regard to family life. He spoke about forgiveness and how important the words, “please, sorry and thank you” are within the family. He touched upon about how social media can connect families spread across the world, which is especially true for our family, but can also detract from valuable family time. He spoke of the importance of extended family, especially grandparents, who bring experience of their own family life and how in God’s house, there is a place at the table for everyone. This was especially important for us as we were accompanied by Lisa's mother, her brother, his wife and their 10-week-old baby boy. We were truly blessed to have them join us and to share our experiences with them. The culmination of the meeting was the Papal Mass in which a crowd 500,000 strong descended on Phoenix park to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father. As the Pope entered on the Pope-mobile and proceeded to drive around the crowd for nearly 30 minutes, everyone was rushing to get as close as possible. There was a palpable sense of joy in the air that was brilliant to see first-hand. That reaction is testament to the faith we all have in Pope Francis to lead the Church here on Earth in this day and age, where often the Church as well as ourselves as Catholics are under attack from the forces of evil. It was a joyful celebration in which petitions from the Archdiocese, including some from Littlemore parish were presented to the Pope during the offertory procession. Just to be in the presence of the Holy Father was a source of spiritual strength for us, and this has stayed with us as we returned to our daily lives. By the end of the meeting, we were physically exhausted but spiritually refreshed. You might be able to tell if you saw us on Songs of Praise! As someone said to us, it isn’t a pilgrimage unless you’re knackered by the end of it! We’ve taken away a huge amount of joy and hope from the meeting, and we feel more connected to families all over the world than ever before. It was an experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.