Update: Families called to share joy, love, life with the world, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

DUBLIN (CNS) — In a stadium of
Catholic families from around the world, Pope Francis told the laypeople they
are the vast majority of church members and that, without them, the church
would be cold, a collection of statues.

“God wants every family to be a
beacon of joy of his love to our world,” the pope said Aug. 25,
celebrating the Festival of Families in Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium.

The Irish dance troupe Riverdance
thrilled the crowd and brought a big smile to Pope Francis’ face. “The
Priests,” a classical Irish trio of priests, performed, as did Nathan
Carter, an Irish country singer, and tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Families from India, Canada, Iraq,
Ireland and Burkina Faso stood on stage near the pope while pre-recorded video
versions of their testimonies played.

The Canadian couple, Marissa and
Aldo d’Andrea of Toronto, spoke about their 54 years of marriage, their four
children and 13 grandchildren — and one on the way.

The Iraqi couple, Enass and Sarmaad
Mekhael, are refugees living in Australia. Enass’ brother was Father Ragheed
Aziz Ganni, a 35-year-old Chaldean Catholic priest murdered in 2007 at a parish
in Mosul, Iraq.

The families, who have faced joys
and heartache and have held on to each other and to their faith, are models of
how each Catholic family is called to give a witness in the world to the love
of God, the pope said.

“That is what holiness is all
about,” he said. “I like to speak of the saints next door, all those
ordinary people who reflect God’s presence in the life and history of the

Pope Francis insisted, “The
vocation to love and to holiness is not something reserved for a privileged
few,” but is a call that comes with baptism.

One key aspect of God’s love is
God’s willingness to forgive, and that is an essential part of family life,
too, the pope said.

Every family experiences tensions
and arguments, the pope said, but “sometimes you are angry and tempted to
sleep in another room — alone and apart — but just knock on the door and say:
‘Please, can I come in?’ All it takes is a look, a kiss, a sweet word and
everything returns to normal.”

Pope Francis said the stories shared
by the couples clearly show the strength and power that come from faith and
from the grace of sacramental marriage.

“The love of Christ that renews
all things is what makes possible marriage and a conjugal love marked by
fidelity, indissolubility, unity and openness to life,” he said. “God
— Father, Son and Holy Spirit — created mankind in his image to share in his
love, to be a family of families and to enjoy the peace that he alone can

Many seats in the stadium remained
empty. Years of revelations of the extent of decades of physical, sexual and
emotional abuse by church officials and their long-delayed response to the
problem have devastated Irish Catholics, sent church attendance plummeting and
contributed strongly to the waning influence of the Irish hierarchy in public

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis
spent 90 minutes meeting privately with eight survivors of the abuse. One
survivor, Father Patrick McCafferty, tweeted that it was “an excellent
meeting in every respect.”

“I think all this with the
abuse is taking its toll,” said Laura Egan of Dublin, who attended the
Croke Park event. “I came to see the last pope in 1979. Pope Francis is a
wonderful man. I do think he can bring the church through this abuse scandal,
but it’s those in the Vatican who need to do something about it. That insider circle
has a lot of power. I think Francis can make that happen.”

Paul Doherty, 53, a security guard
from County Meath, told Catholic News Service, “the faith is still strong
here, but this is a very different Ireland from the one Pope John Paul II
visited. Hopefully this will strengthen the faith here.

Doherty, a eucharistic minister in
his parish, added: “The church in Ireland needs new life, new thinking. We
need to let the people speak — about divorce, marriage, abortion, same-sex
marriage. The people of Ireland have a voice. And they’re using their

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Contributing to this story was Gina

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