Hendrikus and Paula Wong of Coogee, Australia, pose with their five children during the World Meeting of Families in Milan June 2. From left the children are Laura Philomena, 5 months, Madeleine, 14, Catherine, 5, Michael, 14, and Theodore, 12. Their trip to Milan was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Sydney. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Large families find strength, grace at world meeting in Milan

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • June 4, 2012

MILAN (CNS) -- One thing the Tuncaps and the Wongs have in common, other than attending their first World Meeting of Families with five children each, is they've had a lot of people tell them they were crazy.

Paula Wong, 42, said that back home in Coogee, Australia, people at the supermarket often say "I'm so glad I'm not you!" as she pushes her cart with her tousle-haired kids.

Her husband Hendrikus, 45, said his relatives still can't understand why he would want so many children when his mother grew up poor in Jakarta in a family of 10.

"She didn't want this for us" because she equates large families with hardship and poverty, Hendrikus said, shaking his head.

Allen Tuncap, 28, said his friends thought he was crazy for taking his wife and five kids from Charleston, S.C., to Europe on a shoe-string budget, with no set itinerary, hop-scotching across the Atlantic and Europe by hitching "space available" military family seats on cargo or commercial planes.

He told his wife Janell, "just pack light, bring lots of Pampers and God will take care of the rest." The diaper supply was for 6-month-old Madden, the youngest of their five children. The others are: Ethan, 10; Aveah, 6; Tobey, 3; and Elyjah, 2.

Allen, a petty officer 2nd class in the U.S. Coast Guard, credits lots of planning, prayers to St. Rita, packing skills, good friends with good connections and the grace of God for getting his family where they ended up: sitting at the Pope's table during a private luncheon June 3 in Milan.

"We were so nervous, we didn't know how to eat, which fork to use," said Janell, who still couldn't believe they were chosen to sit with the Pope at his table.

Elyjah and Ethan got up enough courage to go up and speak to the Pope after the meal, which consisted of an appetizer plate of cured beef slices, followed by Milanese risotto, veal and wild strawberries with custard, Allen said.

The two kids talked to the Pope about school, what their names were "and he said he was going to pray for our family," Janell said. Tobey was really shy but finally went up to the Pope and hugged him, she said.

The Wongs' trip was fully sponsored by the Archdiocese of Sydney. While they didn't have the uncertainty of where they would sleep or when their next plane would take off like the Tuncaps, they had to endure a 26-hour flight.

Twins Madeleine and Michael, 14, Theodore, 12, Catherine, 5, and Laura Philomena, 5 months, were doing fine in Milan coping with the 10-hour jet lag, Hendrikus said June 2.

Hendrikus and Paula moved to Australia during the Jakarta riots of 1998. He said he left behind a successful career in banking and corporate finance to start from scratch in Australia.

Despite two master's degrees from Australian schools, he said he still couldn't find a career that offered economic security. But it's a Catch-22, he said, because a better paying job would most likely mean missing time with his family, "and I don't want that."

"We do our best. Our investment is in the children, not in having a nice car or house, and we have no pension," he said.

Everything is focused on formation: giving the kids the love and guidance they need to become good men and women some day, not spoiling them with gadgets, he said.

"I used to dream that my kids would become doctors and make money, but not now," Paula said. She changed when she read that the true measure of a child's success is if he tells his parents one day "Thank you for all you've given and done for me," she said.

Hendrikus agreed, saying if a strong foundation of values is laid down for their children, "they will work hard and everything else will follow."

The Tuncaps said they came to the world meeting to "get graces" and inspiration for raising good kids, especially in a culture that doesn't always promote or respect what is best for humanity.

"We are on the front lines right now" against a culture that lacks respect for human dignity and life, said Allen.

He said their oldest, Ethan, is like "a lab rat for our parenting skills" -- how they live their lives and raise their children will either "keep him in the faith or let him be derailed. So if we don't get our graces now, then one, two, three, four, five lives suffer," he said giving a head count of his kids.

Allen said that after reading Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae" (On Human Life), Blessed John Paul II's theology of the body, and Pope Benedict's encyclical on charity "Deus Caritas Est," he was amazed that "these guys never married but they understand love so deeply."

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