[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat do you get when you mix eight children, two parents and a 2,300-mile journey in a 10-passenger van?
The Hanning family of Mesa is about to find out. They’re among dozens of local Catholics preparing to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22-25 where they hope to encounter Pope Francis. The pontiff will participate in the Festival of Families Sept. 26 and then celebrate a Mass Sept. 27 for an anticipated crowd of 1.5 million people. It will be his first visit to the U.S. since being elected in 2013.
The World Meeting of Families takes place every three years and attracts Catholics from around the globe for a series of conferences, keynote addresses, prayer opportunities and motivation. The first meeting was held in Rome in 1994 and subsequent gatherings have taken place in Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Mexico City and other cities.
Ryan Hanning said he and his wife Becky want their children to experience the universality of the Church through the pilgrimage.
“The Church includes every ethnicity and every culture and celebrates their culture. I can’t wait for them to experience that,” Ryan said.
The University of Mary–Tempe official has several speaking engagements sprinkled across the country along the way, so they’ll be stopping for those as well as to celebrate daily Mass. The family will be camping out in friends’ homes, basements and front rooms all along the journey.
Mike Phelan, director of the Marriage and Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Phoenix, said he and his wife Sharon and their six children will also be making the pilgrimage to Philadelphia.
Mike remembers a priest once saying that making a pilgrimage is an important key to children maintaining their Catholic identity as adults.
“That always struck me as something I wanted to do for our kids. This is just a marvelous opportunity,” Mike said.
Sharon has designed a sticker system for the children to earn points toward a “World Meeting of Families milkshake” and a special dinner out for cheesesteaks.
“They don’t even know what a cheesesteak is but they are so excited about that,” Mike chuckled.
Peter and Cynthia Lemieux, who have been involved in the marriage preparation ministry for 30 years and are parishioners at St. Timothy, will be attending their second World Meeting of Families. In 2012, they visited Milan for the gathering.
“It was an overwhelmingly wonderful experience,” Cynthia said. “It helped us to renew our call to help out with marriages and just was very affirming to go to a Mass with a million people that the pope celebrated.”
Cindy Leonard, coordinator of the office of Natural Family Planning for the Phoenix Diocese, said she’s excited to be going to Philadelphia and is looking forward to hearing from an array of over 100 speakers on a wide range of topics of interest to Catholics.
“Mostly I’m looking forward to listening to our Holy Father’s wisdom to hear what he wants us all to hear about the family and its primary place in society,” Leonard said.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, as well as priests and deacons from around the Diocese of Phoenix, will travel to Philadelphia for the Catholic extravaganza too.
Bishop Olmsted will be present in Washington, D.C. Sept. 23 when Pope Francis canonizes Blessed Junípero Serra, the Franciscan Friar who evangelized modern-day California and established nine missions there. Blessed Junípero Serra is the patron saint of the Serra Club, which promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“He is one of the great evangelizers of the Native peoples here, so much so that his statue is in the U.S. Capitol dome,” Bishop Olmsted said. “At this time in history we need a new evangelization and we need to pray for more vocations. He’ll inspire us at that event and I’m sure it will be great.”
Fr. Ernesto Reynoso, adjutant judicial vicar said he’d be attending along with members of the Catholic Association for Latino Leadership. Members of the Reynoso family will travel from Mexico to attend, so he’s looking forward to connecting with them too.
“There’s a lot of confusion these days about the family,” Fr. Reynoso said. “We’re going to witness to and recognize the Christian family as God designed it.”
Deacon Doug Bogart and his wife Lani will attend along with their daughter and her husband and seven children. He said the timing of the pope’s visit was providential.
“The Vicar of Christ on earth is coming to the land that is most responsible for promoting the strongest attacks on marriage and family and innocent life around the world. We are in the midst of a war that is being waged against the truth of the human person,” Dcn. Bogart said. “It could be that his visit will have an impact far beyond what we can imagine at this time.”