International Rome Pilgrimage to Celebrate the Family
by David Gibson
It is time to “hit the streets” in celebration of the joy that arises from being part of a loving family, said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. He looked ahead in a recent interview to the pilgrimage of families in Rome Oct. 26-27.
Families from around the world will gather Oct. 26 in the Piazza del Popolo in central Rome where their journey of a little more than two miles to St. Peter’s Square and to the tomb of St. Peter commences. Pope Francis plans to join them that day in a celebration of faith and to preside at the Eucharist with them the following day.
“Being and making a family nowadays is a beautiful and exciting experience, but for all that still quite demanding,” Archbishop Paglia commented in a July 2 message. He repeatedly has noted that despite difficult challenges, research indicates compellingly that young people of the 21st century “want to build their own family life, in a lifelong commitment with the same person.”
The church is concerned “with the current crisis in marriage and the family because she is aware that both are a Gospel, a good news for men and women today who are often alone, lacking love, parenting and support,” the archbishop observed in a February message.
He wrote that as an “expert in humanity,” the church is well aware of “the high price of the fragility of the family, which is paid mainly by children (born and unborn), by the elderly and by the ill.”
The same month, in a presentation to a United Nations event, Archbishop Paglia spoke of the family “as the fundamental resource of society, the source of social capital and the birthright of all humanity.” Every society’s stability, he said, depends “on the stability of the families from which it springs.”
A rediscovery of the family as a privileged place for the transmission of faith is a goal of the upcoming pilgrimage of families. It offers participants the opportunity, walking side by side, to share “stories and experiences of family life,” and to renew and celebrate their faith, the pontifical council said.
One hope is that the pilgrimage, by highlighting family life’s important bonds, will counteract what Archbishop Paglia described in his February message as “an escalation in the race to individualism.”
While acknowledging the importance of personal individuality, he lamented a contemporary “cult of ‘me,’ free from any attachment.” The risks are, he suggested, that we will become “locked with ourselves” and tempted to “self-absorption.”
The pilgrimage is among events planned in Rome for the current Year of Faith, which began Oct. 11, 2012, and concludes this fall on Nov. 24. The start of the Year of Faith marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
With activities planned for young adults, teens and children, the pilgrimage is meant for the whole family. For example, children between the ages of 3 and 11 are invited to draw a picture of their family on letter paper and send it by Sept. 30 to Pope Francis via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The best submissions are to be displayed during the pilgrimage.
A contest for youths between the ages of 12 and 18 encourages them to tell with a photograph what it means to live life to its fullest. Interested youths can share their photos before Oct. 15 on the pontifical council’s Facebook page “Pontificium Consilium pro Familia.”
Young adults were invited to audition via tapes or videos emailed to the council by Sept. 10 for a Festival of Christian Music and Witness taking place on the pilgrimage’s opening day.
Accenting the Entire Family
Archbishop Paglia discussed the upcoming pilgrimage in a recent interview with Cindy Wooden, a long-time reporter in the Catholic News Service Rome bureau. He and his staff hope the pilgrimage will be “a beautiful celebration of parents and children, grandchildren and grandparents, and families with other families.”
He looked ahead to the pilgrimage as a multigenerational event whose welcome extends to grandparents. “I want to help people rediscover the positive force of bonds that last from one generation to the next,” he said.
The central message of this pilgrimage is that “happiness does not lie in going it alone,” Archbishop Paglia explained. He said that at a time when there appears to be a “mad dash toward individualism and satisfying oneself,” it is essential “to demonstrate that the ‘we’ of a family is not only possible, but beautiful.”
Naturally, he observed, building a family requires sacrifices. But, he added, it is “still beautiful to say ‘I love you,’ to say ‘I’m not afraid of tomorrow because I know you are there,’ and to say ‘I’m not afraid of the years passing because I know you’ll be with me.’”
Archbishop Paglia told Wooden that he sees “a special responsibility on the part of Christians to live well the grace of marriage and family life in order to help everyone in the world recognize how beautiful it is.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.