Edmonton pilgrims (left to right) Stephen Carattini, Sylvie Sauve, Sharon Faye, Michel Sauve, and Michelle Carattini waited for hours to see the pope.

PHOTO | COURTESY STEPHEN CARATTINI

Edmonton pilgrims (left to right) Stephen Carattini, Sylvie Sauve, Sharon Faye, Michel Sauve, and Michelle Carattini waited for hours to see the pope.

October 12, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

It was surreal. It was noisy.

It was a week in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Congress that six families from the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton will not forget.

The event, which takes place every three to four years and draws families from around the world, kicked off Sept. 22 concluding with the appearance of Pope Francis, who celebrated the final Mass on Sunday.

"It was astounding - the number of people who it meant so much to them that they were willing to stand in a line and walk for three and a half hours just for the opportunity to be there," said Lisa MacQuarrie. She, and husband Leonard, were two of the nearly one million people who attended the papal Mass.

"To be part of that faithful group of people who are energized by that and by the Eucharist and coming together, was just an amazing experience."

Stephen Carattini, chief executive officer of Catholic Social Services, attended the meeting as a pilgrim with his wife Michelle, on behalf of their St. Joseph's College Chapel community.

For Carattini, it was a powerful experience of sharing, learning and worshiping.

"What a wonderful experience to be around so many faith-filled people, so many people who wanted to be there for the conference itself," he said. "And then of course, when the pope came, it went to a whole new level of excitement."

Representing six families from the diocese, the group of 21 lived in a home together, prayed together, and shared meals.

The papal Mass Sunday afternoon was "pretty spectacular," said Carattini, but it was listening to the pope at the Saturday night festival of families when he spoke "off the cuff" that was the highlight for the Edmonton pilgrim.

Francis talked about the importance of caring for children and grandparents - the very young and very old, because young people give us strength to move forward and grandparents give faith, said Carattini.

He also emphasized God's love for the family and gave practical advice, such as to never go to bed angry with one another, but to always make peace. Family life has its challenges, but they can be overcome with love, he said.

"That, to me was the most meaningful and inspirational talk of all of the talks," said Carattini. "They were all good, but that one spoke to me the most."

The conference included a lot of catechesis, with participants learning about what the faith has always taught about family, attendees said.

Steven Defer, co-ordinator for the Office of Life and Family, attended with his wife Nancy Defer, and said the talks, which included speakers Robert Barron and Helen Alvaré, were informative and included "humbling testimonies."

One speaker, who spoke about his adoption by a French family, particularly touched Defer when he described the feeling of finally being a part of a family.

"We all live that, but to have someone give such a powerful witness as to how spectacular that is, how wonderful it is to hear, 'You're welcome, we love you for no other reason but we choose to, we love you,' well, that has to be the offer of God in Jesus Christ," said Defer. "The energy of this moment is something that will stay with me the rest of my life," he said.

Archbishop Richard Smith, who also took part in the congress, lived with the families taking part from Edmonton during the trip, joined the group for dinner and blessed them at night.

MacQuarrie, co-ordinator of youth evangelization for the diocese, said "I'm not sure how you can go to something like this, have the experience and not be moved and energized to go forth in mission and to spread this to other people."