PHILADELPHIA — Thousands of Catholics poured into the Pennsylvania Convention Center late Tuesday afternoon for the opening Mass of the World Meeting of Families, among them dozens of pilgrims from the Diocese of Phoenix.
Each Mass-goer received a copy of a special edition of Magnificat, a monthly magazine that includes the daily Mass readings and prayers along with words of inspiration from Catholic thinkers across the centuries. What caught many attendees by surprise was the specially-composed processional hymn that spoke to the holiness and the mission of families in the city where America’s beloved Liberty Bell stands.
“Sound the bell of holy freedom; call all nations of the earth. Sons and daughters of one Father, sent to spread God’s saving word,” echoed throughout the hall as young and old alike raised their voices in unison. Nuns in a multitude of religious habits and young parents holding infants and toddlers stood shoulder to shoulder.
The procession of bishops was so long, the choir and congregation sang the anthem’s six verses three times. The heartfelt melody and words were sung by almost all in attendance, many overcome with emotion as the clergy proceeded into the ballroom converted into a worship space. The front of the expansive room featured a massive backdrop of artwork from the St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia offered warm words of welcome to all in attendance. “We really do hope to learn from one another … how we might love our own families better,” Archbishop Chaput said of the World Meeting of Families. “This is a time of mutual exchange,” he said.
Ordained some 45 years ago, Archbishop Chaput said that years ago, he and many of those ordained around the same time would look for Scripture readings that emphasized the points they wanted to make.
“As I got older and hopefully wiser, I decided what I did was wrong … that what I should do is to be faithful to the word of God that is given to me by the Church. The readings today were not picked by me. Who would have picked a long reading from Ezra?” Archbishop Chaput said.
The passage from Ezra, written some 420 years before the birth of Christ, spoke of the rebuilding of the temple after the second exile of the Israelites. “God has brought us together in some sense for a spiritual return to the Christian understanding of family life. He’s inviting us to rebuild in our own lives, the temple, which is the domestic church,” Archbishop Chaput said.
The World Meeting of Families continues through Sept. 25. The Festival of Families takes place Sept. 26, when Pope Francis will address the crowd, expected to swell by thousands. The Holy Father will celebrate an outdoor Mass in Philadelphia Sept. 27 that is expected to draw some 2 million people.
Follow Joyce Coronel on Twitter at @JoyceCoronel.