The World Meeting of Families event next month in Philadelphia aims to lead families to know their importance as a gift from God and to help them open their hearts to Jesus Christ, a priest involved in the event has said. The family “is the place where we feel most loved, most protected, most safe, valued,” Father William Donovan, one of the meeting’s main organizers, told CNA. “In the natural economy of things, one could say after the gift of life itself, the second greatest gift God has given us is family.” “The reason is because, once God gives us life, he also wants us to have a full life. He wants us to be loved, to be protected, to be safe, to be secure, to be valued,” said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest who also serves as Archbishop Charles Chaput’s liaison to the Pontifical Council for the Family. This year's World Meeting of Families will take place from September 22-27 with the theme “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” Its closing Mass with Pope Francis will mark the end of his first visit to the United States. The meeting also includes presentations, testimonies, and other events. “The idea is that we want to try to bring as many resources and assistance to the human family so that they can understand and execute its role as a place of love,” said Fr. Donovan. Pope John Paul II founded the international event in 1994 to encourage families and to strengthen familial bonds. The event takes place every three years in a different city around the world. Fr. Donovan said the event is a celebration of “the importance, the nature, the dignity, (and) the beauty of the family.” He added that the international gathering brings together pastoral resources on the family that participants can bring back to their respective countries and dioceses. One of the tasks involved in promoting the World Meeting of Families was in spreading awareness, Fr. Donovan said. Although the event has been taking place for more than twenty years, many Americans were unaware of it. “Of course, with the Holy Father`s coming, and that brings a great attention to it,” he said. “And, of course, the Holy Father is part of a long tradition. He represents Jesus Christ as the vicar of Christ, so his message will be full of hope, and joy.” Observing the particular care which Pope Francis has shown to the family since the beginning of his papacy, Fr. Donovan recalled in particular the image of the family being the first school, the first Church, and — especially — the first hospital. “This image is particularly captivating because when we talk about the families as being the first hospital, we talked about wounds, or weakness,” he said. “The Holy Father is interested in attending particularly to the wounds and weaknesses of the human family.” The weeklong World Meeting of Families will be divided into three parts: an international congress from September 22-25, consisting of presentations by experts on the family; an artistic festival with Pope Francis, which will include testimonies by one family from each continent; and finally, outdoor Mass on Sunday in Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “Perhaps one can say that the human mind is nourished by the Congress, the human heart will be nurtured by the cultural celebration and the spirit will be nurtured by the Mass,” Fr. Donovan said. The priest said meeting organizers wanted the selection of speakers to showcase both the uniqueness of individuals and the shared experience which being part of a family brings. “Just like each person is a unique gift of God -- but there is something common in the human experience that we can all share about the dignity of a human person -- the same thing is with the family,” he said. Fr. Donovan added that organizers wanted the speakers to convey how “every family is a unique and irreproducible gift of God, but there’s something common to all families.” Any man and woman of goodwill, both from within and outside the Church, “can participate in the importance and the dignity of the family,” he said. However, the primary aim of the organizers is to lead families closer to Christ. “It would be wonderful if each person can take away something that makes him or her a better person, and improves their family: opening their minds and hearts to Christ will improve themselves and their families,” the priest said. “This is our hope: to bring greater happiness, greater peace, greater security, and salvation, to our families.” This year's World Meeting of Families will be the eighth of its kind, and the first to take place in the United States. The last World Meeting of Families was held in Milan in 2012. The event takes place just weeks ahead of the Synod on the Family on Oct. 4-25. Its focus will be the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”
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