James and Catherine McLoughlin

It’s not every day that you are told that you’ve been selected to attend a special event...and it’s definitely not every day that the host of the event is the Holy Father, Pope Francis! Privileged does not even cover it.

The reason why we were selected to attend this event is because just over two months ago we celebrated the Sacrament of Marriage. As a newly married couple we had decided that it would be important to attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. We are a young couple. We are both practising Catholics. We both work for the Church. Pope Francis is known to make statements - and gosh did we want to be part of that!

What we didn’t realise was, having been invited to a special event for newly engaged and married couples, just how personal those statements would be for us.

We waited with our special invitations, along with 350 other couples, to enter St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral Dublin.

There was a clear undercurrent of expectations...passers-by wanted to know what we were waiting for...some Sisters walked past and implored us to tell Pope Francis how much they love him.

Once through security we had to tell the organisers where we were from - THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BIRMINGHAM! Almost all of the couples represented Dioceses within Ireland - we were lovingly described as ‘others’.

Once in St Mary’s we were met with the heavenly sound of a Gospel Choir. Many couples were already sat as we were guided to our pews near the rear of the Church. In preparation of the event we were told about Pope Francis’ logistics, guided through the World Meeting of Families hymn ‘The Joy of Love’ and also heard some testimonies from couples.

One of the most poignant reflections for us was given by the Choir Director who declared that God dwells not just in the Church but also in our homes, in the ‘tabernacles of our kitchens’ - what a beautiful thought!

The moment had arrived! Pope Francis enters the Cathedral. Couples are smiling with a deep joy that you know comes from the realisation of what a once-in-a-lifetime experience this is.

Our introduction was given by a couple married for 50 years - who reminded us of the great responsibility and challenge that marriage is. The Holy Father also received two young couples who asked him questions about explaining the Sacrament of Marriage and also how to transmit the faith to children.

Pope Francis’ address was full of meaning for us as a young married couple. He commented on how young we all were and how we are living examples that young people still believe in the Sacrament of marriage. He spoke of marriage as a gift. A gift that we give to one another. He spoke about us always learning from the wisdom of those who have been married for a long time. He said that we are the ‘keepers of precious memories’.

Many times before the Pontiff has reminded young people about cherishing the wisdom of older people - he said he was particularly pleased that the service had begun with testimony from a couple celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Love, he said, is a deep reflection of God. And children...how can parents teach the faith? He said simply that we should show them. Love is all about faith. Fidelity is all about faith. Forgiveness is all about faith.

He spoke of a memory of his own family that taught him about love and faith. He came home after school and ‘caught’ his mother and father kissing. He said that despite his father being exhausted after work he chose to show love. A great life lesson. Be affectionate and your children will learn! We are called to lead a ‘revolution of love’, he said, and even further we must be part of a ‘revolution of tenderness’. Powerful stuff.

All too soon the event was coming to its end and we received a blessing from Pope Francis.

Our lasting memories were of a deep feeling of humility to be amongst so many other young and faithful Catholics who have chosen marriage in the midst of a culture that does not, and a feeling of great hope for the future of the Church.

Pope Francis has said it before...mercy first! And for our marriage this is a good lesson. Mercy first.

James and Catherine McLoughlin

- Married at St Giles Catholic Church, Cheadle, on June 9th, 2018. Catherine worked with Soli House from 2011-2017 and James works as part of BCYS (Birmingham Catholic Youth Service). They met working together...Catherine started falling in love with him after World Youth Day in Poland and after many obvious hints from Catherine that following December they began the adventure that would lead them to the great commitment of marriage!