by Marlon Davis
At the end of September I had the honour of going to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia and attend the World Meeting of Families, a four-day conference for Catholics from around the world.
With the glee of a child, I braced my friends and family on Facebook for what was coming: a barrage of Pope pictures, quotes, selfies with priests and video clips of mass chants – simply a celebration of the life religion brings to me and so many others.
I felt I had to brace them because religion has become a taboo word – to many across philosophical and political spectrums. While some subscribe to a faith, many see it is obsolete, cumbersome, or just downright false. Others don’t give it much thought at all but simply write it off as another hobby – as though it were a diet or a fad. They might find it fitting that last month I attended Yukomicon and now I was attending a conference for another equally obscure pastime.
I went with what is the natural enthusiasm of a Catholic holding to her faith in the time of “The People’s Pope.” Certainly, the Francis Effect is now well known to people of most countries and creeds. It’s easy to see why. He has reasserted the place of Catholicism and all peaceable religions in our world and preached endlessly of the place for mercy and understanding (“Who am I to judge?).
At the papal mass, the almost 1 million present (and countless others watching from home) demonstrated that religion has place in the family, in society and even in the state. Gasp.
The Pope chose the theme for the week – The Family Fully Alive: Love is our Mission. Well who can argue with that? And before you ask how exciting a conference could be with 17,000 people coming from the same traditional cookie-cutter families? Think again.
Nuns attended the conference in abundance. I met single people, young people, priests, the widowed and the elderly. There was a huge contingent from Asia and Africa. Mexicans were proudly present in numbers. What did we all have in common? We are all part of family. We all came into this world via la familia.
Pope Francis described the family as the ideal setting for finding our purpose, our ethics, our direction and meaning but did not idealize the reality; “In families, we argue; in families, sometimes the plates fly.”
He reflected, as many others did at this conference, that the first to suffer in the retreat of the family are the elderly and the young. The implication is that we often look to the state, school or any other institution to make up for what has been lost in the family, but ultimately what we must do, as the Holy Father pleaded, is “defend the family, because there, there, our future is at play.”
He also had words for any who would seek to marginalize the value of religion and impose an unnecessary uniformity, as well as for those who would use religion in a violent or oppressive way; “In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”
There are many who would call this Pope a hypocrite to at once preach about peace, tolerance and respect and moments later reemphasize the unique martial bond between a man and woman, a male priesthood or any number of other Catholic teachings that seem anachronistic in our society.
In recent days, it has emerged that during the Pope’s U.S. visit he met with both Kim Davis – that’s the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples – and a homosexual couple (I imagine at separate times).
While we are left scratching our heads, trying to interpret his actions, his most simple words echo in my ears. To the people of the Catholic faith and all those of good will who gathered to see him on this inaugural U.S. visit, he simply redirects our focus -“All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful brings us to God.”
The sheer numbers present both at the World Meeting and the papal mass was a testament that God is not dead but vitally alive amongst the people of this earth. And it is through families, the ones we are born into and the ones we gather around us, that we find the beauty of God.
Pope Francis told a listening crowd -myself, my baby and my husband nestled among them -“Families have a citizenship that is divine. The identity card that they have is given to them by God so that within the heart of the family truth, goodness and beauty can truly grow.”
Marlon Davis lives in Whitehorse and attends Sacred Heart Cathedral with her young family. She blogs about faith, books and family at www.magnifichat.weebly.com.