[dropcap type=”4″]T[/dropcap]he countdown has begun!

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.
Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

With just days to go until Pope Francis arrives in the U.S., Catholics from around the globe are preparing to join him at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia where they’ll unite around the theme “Love is our Mission.”

I’ll be traveling there alongside Gina Keating, a longtime Catholic Sun contributor, to report on the experiences of pilgrims from the Diocese of Phoenix. Be sure to check The Catholic Sun Facebook page and Twitter feed for the very latest updates and your next issue of the Sun for full coverage.

Originally, Gina and I considered driving to Philadelphia. Two journalist-catechist moms on a road trip might be fun. Right? Then we realized that if our transmission blew in, say Albuquerque, we’d never make it to see Pope Francis. So, we took the plunge and decided to fly. Of course, knowing that we could stay with my cousin Ann in Philly made it doable.

Ann is one of those relatives that you don’t get to see very often, but when you do, you think, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were neighbors?” She’s a devout Catholic and someone I’ve always admired.

Her uncle, Fr. Joe Curran, was pastor of a large parish and school in Philadelphia. He came to visit our family from time to time when I was growing up and we felt honored to have him in our family. One year, he brought several brother priests for a week of golf during March, when Philadelphia’s high was probably in the 50-degree range.

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His last visit to the Valley was in 1995. At the time, I was getting ready to give birth to our fourth child and caring for three very active young sons. Whenever Fr. Joe would come to Arizona, our extended family gathered for a private Mass.

I still remember the call from my mother that afternoon, checking to see what time we’d be there that evening. I told her we weren’t going to make it. “The kids are tired and cranky and I’ll never be able to manage them,” I told her. “They’ll make too much of a racket at Mass and I don’t want to bother everyone.” I was feeling rather tired and cranky myself.

About 30 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Fr. Joe.

“The Mass begins at 6 p.m. and I’ll be expecting you here. Those kids will be just fine. I’ll put them to work — you can be sure of that.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer.

And so we buckled up three squirmy little boys and their tired mommy and headed to the Mass. When we got there, Fr. Joe greeted us with a big smile and told the boys they’d be “assisting” him at Mass.

I don’t remember what the readings were or what he preached on that night, but I’ll always remember three generations of our extended family gathered for the Eucharist and the Coronel boys and their cousins eagerly (and quietly) serving the Mass.

Pope Francis figurines are seen in a window display at a store along a street in Philadelphia Aug. 27. The pope will visit Philadelphia during his Sept. 22-27 visit to the United States. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Pope Francis figurines are seen in a window display at a store along a street in Philadelphia Aug. 27. The pope will visit Philadelphia during his Sept. 22-27 visit to the United States. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

These days, I’m the lady at church who smiles at you when your baby cries or your toddler squawks or your teenager looks less than thrilled to be at Mass. I’m the lady who’s packed up Bible storybooks and pacifiers and quizzed the kids on the readings during the car ride home. And I’m here to tell you that the little ones — they grow up. Just when you think the diapers and dishes and tantrums will never end, they do.

Those years with young children are precious on many levels, not the least of which is the laying of the foundation for a life of faith. At World Youth Day in 2013, Pope Francis said the family was the “privileged place for transmitting the faith… How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogues, especially within the context of the family.” Exchanges like the ones I remember, the ones that buoy my spirits even now.

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