The Martin Family (Birmingham South Deanery)

We are the Martin family; Chris, Beatrice, Teddy, Cecilia and Abi and we represented the Birmingham South Deanery at the Archdiocese of Birmingham’s pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families in August this year.

The World Meeting of Families is the opportunity for the Church to show how much it values the input of families by giving them the chance to come together to have catechesis and worship times together.

It happens every three years in different places around the world. This year it was held in Dublin. The Archdiocese sent a family from each of the 18 deaneries and it was the largest group from England to attend.

When we heard that the World Meeting of Families was to be held in Dublin this summer we jumped at the chance to go. We couldn’t let the opportunity to take our children on such an amazing pilgrimage pass and when my parents were also selected to represent their deanery in Banbury we were delighted.

We have all been on pilgrimages before – we have travelled with the diocese to Lourdes numerous times and Chris and I actually met at another global pilgrimage, World Youth Day in 2005, so we had an idea of what pilgrimage meant.

We thought we knew what to expect from this pilgrimage – we had no idea however that all of our expectations would be exceeded.

We expected to have an arduous journey, as all true pilgrimages should have! It did have its organisational hiccups, and the five-mile walk in the rain to the Papal Mass on Sunday was difficult for the very young and very old, however we didn’t expect the camaraderie and team work between our follow diocesan pilgrims to develop so quickly that it eased the pain of the journey as we made fast friends!

We expected to hear talks and instruction on our faith. We did, but we also heard spirit-filled cardinals and bishops within the church guiding us to be better in all that we do, alongside testimonials from ordinary Catholics just like us, from various places all over the world, inspiring us in their simplicity.

We expected entertainment for the children. They were certainly entertained, by international singers, dancers and performers – we were wowed by Riverdance! - but they were also cared for, appreciated and loved, each even receiving a book, the Catechism of the Catholic Church written for children to understand – it was a present from Pope Francis to each child attending the pilgrimage. We brought back a copy for the school so that each child at Our Lady of Lourdes could share in the experience.

We expected to meet new people. We didn’t expect some of the sweetest moments of the pilgrimage to be when we randomly chatted to other ordinary people, like the lady at the bus stop, the lad in the shop, the Carmelite priest who gave us an impromptu and moving family blessing in a busy shopping hall or when Cardinal Vincent Nicholls shared our chips one lunchtime; those small connections of friendship and faith were precious and truly special.

We expected to spend some time together as a family. We spent more faith-based time together than I could have hoped; giggling with the children in the rain as we were watched the story of The Prodigal Son being retold with vegetables will stay with me forever.

We expected, or rather hoped, to see Pope Francis. We certainly didn’t expect that what unexpectedly happened during the amazing Festival of Families at Croke Park -
Teddy had the best view of the Pope as he rode right in front of us on a small golf-type buggy – the Pope gave Ceci a high five and shook Beatrice’s hand! It was an unforgettable moment and such a blessing for us all to be so close to a man who exuded calm, joy and peace in the middle of a very excitable crowd.

We expected wisdom from Pope Francis and we certainly got that. He emphasised again and again the incredibly important role that grandparents play in the family, so we were delighted to hear that as we stood alongside my own parents. He didn’t outline rules and judgement. But, like he has done throughout his pontificate, he spoke about what love means within a family and spoke of mercy and forgiveness. On the other hand, we were also very moved when he made a very precise apology for the scandals that we - the Church – are currently facing.

He also gave very practical advice to the gathered families:
1. never go to sleep on an argument;
2. teach your children to do the sign of the cross well;
3. and always say please, thank you and sorry.

We didn’t expect the Pope to be so funny and make us laugh. We will always remember him repeatedly insisting people in Croke Park chant ‘please, thank you and sorry’ at the top of their lungs!

Having our expectations blown sky high means that we are still processing what we have brought away from this pilgrimage.

However, we can safely say that it was an inspirational, faith-affirming experience that we will never forget.

The Hope Family (Worcester Deanery)


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!

The Sutton Family (Coventry Deanery)

When we were chosen to represent the deanery of Coventry we were really shocked. We felt it was a real privilege to be considered in the first place but to be chosen a real blessing.

Before the trip our expectations were just that we would be having five really busy, but exciting days, ahead of us and maybe if we were lucky we would get a close-up glimpse of his Holiness Pope Francis, which would be fantastic.

Also that we would be meeting lots of other families who would share the journey and experience with us and that it would be a great experience for us to share it as one, united family.

Our experience went beyond this. Yes, we had our days filled with lots of different events from going to the RDS for the first three days and joining other families from all over the world, to seeing Pope Francis close up in his pope mobile after leaving the PRO Cathedral Church.

Then joining the many crowds all walking towards Croke Park for the Festival of Families event.

What a fantastic atmosphere and event - even the Mexican wave got a look in!

From the young to the old, from all corners of the world, to celebrate our unity of being part of God's universal family, with Pope Francis as our earthly shepherd and guide.

My boys told me that they felt such as surge of excitement well up inside of them when Pope Francis entered Croke Park and the atmosphere was tangible.

Despite having a good walk back to our accommodation, leaving the concert we felt energised and lighter from the whole experience.

For us as a family we had many highlights, however what stands out most is how everyone helped each other without question.

Seeing acts of kindness even when feeling weary and tired, and making sure nobody was left out. A great experience not to be forgotten.

The Ghemit Family (Birmingham Cathedral Deanery)

We are the Ghemit family living in the Birmingham Cathedral Deanery area.

Our main parish is The Oratory R C Church and we also attend the Eritrean Catholic community, based in St Vincent's R C Church in Nechells, for the Geez rite with Fr Solomon.

We were so excited when they told us our family was going to represent Birmingham Cathedral Deanery.

Praise the Lord it was a very special day for us because we celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary on 15th February 2018, as well as the happiness we were chosen from our deanery. God is good all the time.

It was our first time on a pilgrimage and we didn't have any experience, but if you believe and trust in God he always guides you.

Our expectation as a family was what were we going to do in Dublin?

Praise the Lord the highlight of the pilgrimage was how the families gathered together in Christian faith for the joy of the world. We need to build strong and healthier marriages and families in Christian faith, and teach our children as well as our community.

As a family we gained lots of things such as experience from long-term married couples, meeting other families and very special testimonies from different couples in the world.

How to build a strong family in Christian faith - forgiveness, trust, love and commitment.

The children’s programme was also very good and they really enjoyed it.

We got a blessing from Our Holy Father and it was the first time we have seen him so close.

Finally, we have started to share the beautiful experience we have gained from the World Meeting of Families with the Eritrean catholic community at St Vincent's Church.

How to build a strong family in Christian faith as follows - family and faith, family and love, family and hope.

Please, thank you and sorry - words in our daily life.

We are going to plan for the next World Meeting of Families in Rome in 2021.

May God bless you all.

The D’Silva Family (Walsall Deanery)

‘The joy of love, a joy for all God’s family,

The joy of love transcending time and space.

Our Love for each other mirrors God the Father’s love. 

The joy of love: a joy for all the earth.’


It was an absolute privilege for our family to be picked to represent the Walsall deanery.

It was our first time taking part in any pilgrimage as a family of five, and we were so very thrilled at having been given such an amazing opportunity by both the deanery and the archdiocese; it was a trip we could not have hoped to make without their help.

The week started off with a three-day Congress; each day representing the theme of ‘The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World’ as chosen by the Holy Father himself.

It included enriching workshops given by a number of talented and qualified keynote speakers, as well as many teenage-friendly sessions for the children.

Our most memorable talks were given by Cardinal Tagle of Manila regarding the ‘throwaway culture of today’ and Fr Leo Patalinghug’s interactive talk about having a beautiful married life.

All the talks really challenged us to think about our current lives and how we could live them as better Christians in the way Jesus intended for us.

Our highlights came during the weekend, when we were able to see the Holy Father for the Festival of Families and the Papal Mass.

The reaction Pope Francis received from members of the crowd, some of whom had travelled from halfway across the world, reminded us that the Catholic Church was still strong.

It made us feel good to be a part of the real Church and showed us that there were so many strong fire Catholics and that Jesus lives in all of them. It was truly a humbling experience for all of us.

All in all, we were shown that the joy of love comes from within the family; a family which loves together and prays together, stays together.

2021, Rome: Here we come!

God bless, the D'Silva Family


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 Patalinghug
I 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,


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.