The Drake family discovered enlightening messages at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. Photo courtesy of Drake family

Canadian families looking past scandal at World Meeting of Families

  • August 30, 2018

Wherever they went, participants at the World Meeting of Families couldn’t escape the pall cast by the abuse scandal that has reared its head in the Catholic Church once again.

But for a number of Canadians that attended the Aug. 21-26 event in Dublin, Ireland, they weren’t going to allow it to overshadow why they were attending the gathering.

Gordon Drake from the Hamilton diocese brought his wife, Elaine, and daughters, nine-year-old Elizabeth and Karen, 8, to Dublin. He summed the meeting up as “a very joyful event,” and while participants were aware of the elephant in the room, Drake said it did not take anything away from the joy they experienced.

“What was really edifying was to know that as we came together as a Church this week we were able to pray for the future of our Church and for healing for those who in the past were hurt by those in the Church,” Drake said in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “The Pope’s words at the beginning of the final Mass were right and needed. It hurts us to know that these crimes have occurred. We have children and it sickens us to think that other people’s children were victims of these horrors. We also know that though this has happened in the past we need to move forward and look to the positive.”

Teresa Hartnett, the director of the Family Ministry Office with the Diocese of Hamilton, agreed that the controversy was handled correctly by organizers.

“They expressed clearly and in a forthright manner the damage that has been done, the need for healing and the need to move past this and help people see the beauty that God has to offer, despite the failures of the past,” said Hartnett. 

She said the meeting’s focus remained on Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the pastoral care of families. It highlighted all families, “not just perfect families,” she said. 

“It was not about lecturing how to do it right, but more on why we have to work to get it right, to help families do their best, because families impact children more than anyone else and they are the future,” said Hartnett.

The week and “its festival feeling” provided “much food for thought on the value of the family and how we must turn our focus on strengthening families to pass on the faith, since they really are the gatekeepers to the faith.” 

“The congress reconfirmed how important the task of drawing people back to the faith actually is,” she said. “To help couples and parents see that, despite all the negative news we are hearing these days, the teachings that come from God and Jesus Christ are good and wholesome.”

WMF canadian family dempseyElizabeth Dempsey, right, brought her four children to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families. (Photo courtesy of Dempsey family)

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Elizabeth Dempsey was returning to a nation where she lived for almost nine years and where her four children were born. The single mother from the Hamilton diocese had attended the last World Meeting of Families in 2015 in Philadelphia with her kids, and when Dublin was announced as the venue this year, the children begged to go. It was bittersweet though, as the children were able to see their 92-year-old grandmother after 10 years, only for her to pass away a few days later. But they were able to reconnect with their father.

Dempsey said the meeting made her appreciate how universal the Catholic Church is, with all kinds of families in attendance — young families, lots of teens, middle-aged couples and elderly.

It was the simplicity of Pope Francis’ message that really struck a chord though.

“The one message that resonated at the (meeting) was that families need more of please, thank you and I am sorry — so simple, yet so often forgotten in our busy lives,” said Dempsey.

The Drake girls were also impressed with the Pope’s views on simplicity, said their father.

“His message was simple. If you ask our girls, ‘what did Pope Francis tell us to do as a family?’ they answer, ‘say please, thank you and sorry,’ ” said Drake. “But, hey that’s great. It’s a simple but important message and the best messages are often the ones we can summarize in a few words and actually remember. And living our family life joyfully, we need to be reminded of that.”

Hartnett said she heard media reports that the Pope was not welcome in Ireland due to the abuse scandal, but she said that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Where reports said crowds lining the streets were maybe two deep for Francis, Hartnett said the streets were filled with people six to eight deep.

“Were all the people there? No. But thousands were and I heard from so many, including today as I travelled on into the country, how excited they were for the Pope to come.”

Drake found it hard to take it all in as there was so many workshops, but those they were able to attend left their mark. 

“What has struck us most is how diverse the audiences are and yet they are all faithfully seeking the same answers to many similar challenges regardless of where they come from,” he said. “The beauty of the Catholic faith is on display, particularly the universality of the truth it presents to the whole world.”

The bonding over a week together is something Dempsey will take home from Ireland. She and her kids experienced a lot in a few short days, and it has brought out the best and the worst in the whole family “as we dealt with jet lag, tiredness, fits of laughter and general silliness.

“Every moment we get to spend all together forges our bond stronger and this WMOF2018 is contributing to that,” she said.

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