Diocesan families reflect on World Meeting impact

Diocesan families reflect on World Meeting impact
The Reemmer family of Egg Harbor Township at the World Meeting of Families theological congress, held in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.

The Reemmer family of Egg Harbor Township at the World Meeting of Families theological congress, held in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.

In the summer of 2015, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, sponsored an essay contest open to all diocesan families for tickets to the World Meeting of Families theological congress, held in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia. Eight families representing the entire geographic area of the diocese were selected to receive ticket and attended the four-day congress from Sept. 22-25.

In the final profiles of a three-week series, two of the sponsored families discussed their family lives, their experiences at the congress, and their plans for taking the World Meeting’s message into the future.

Finding Meaning

Sometimes the moments of greatest meaning for families are found in the midst of the hubbub of life. For those families lucky enough to be part of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last week, being part of the hubbub was exactly what they were hoping for.

Zoe Reemmer, 10, of Egg Harbor Township, was one of the lucky ones. She and her brother Zachary, 8, attended the World Meeting’s youth congress while their parents, Alice and David, attended the congress for adults. The Reemmer family joined 17,000 other attendees from around the globe to participate in the week’s events.

What Zoe and Zachary enjoyed most at the congress was meeting other children from all over the world.

“I met kids from Mexico,” Zoe said, “and from Colorado. It was fun!”

Among the activities for kids were “Bowling with the Bishops,” a Wii game, and a sacramental scavenger hunt where the children followed clues to find prizes including bottles of holy water and rosary beads. At the end of the day, priests stopped by to bless the sacramentals.

An activity that brought the entire Reemmer family together was participating in the creation of a mural designed by world-renowned artist Cesar Viveros. When completed, the mural will hang on the façade of the St. Malachy School in Philadelphia. The painting also earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of participants putting brush to paper in a paint-by-numbers project, exceeding the previous record of 2,263 participants.

While their children were interacting with children from around the world, Alice and David were busy taking advantage of all that the theological congress offered for adults. Alice, who works part time as a licensed clinical social worker, “loved hearing the recurring theme of the icon of the Holy Family — how that impacts and speaks to the family today.”

David, who took vacation time from his job as a court summons officer, particularly enjoyed hearing Christopher West speak on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. David serves as a lector at the family’s parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in Linwood.

Now that the World Meeting of Families is over, Alice said she is still absorbing all that she heard and saw: the speakers, the other participants, and especially the books she found on display.

She’ll be taking all that she gleaned back to Our Lady of Sorrows, where she helps run the Ministry of Motherhood which, among other activities, sponsors a book and dessert club.

Zoe can share what she learned with other members of the children’s choir and with the other altar servers in the parish. Participating in parish life is important to the Reemmer family, and being part of the World Meeting of Families helped to confirm their commitment to their parish.

Most of all, Alice appreciated seeing her family as a part of the larger tapestry of the world’s faithful.

“I loved just being there and knowing there are other people who believe.”

A Mission to Help Others

Christina Silvaria attended the World Meeting of Families congress along with her fiancé, Stephen Ellsworth, and the two of them found that the congress, “was way beyond [their] expectations.”

Both Silvaria and Ellsworth are committed to serving others. For them, a highlight of the week was joining with Catholic Relief Services, which made it possible for congress attendees to pack food to help victims of drought in Burkina Faso, Africa. Silvaria and Ellsworth appreciated the chance to help.

“There were people from 100 countries — kids, young families, teenagers — working together,” Silvaria said, “to help others around the globe. It felt like we were welcome family members.”

The couple makes it their mission to help others in their everyday lives. Silvaria’s background includes over 40 years as a psychiatric mental health nurse. And more recently, she has felt a calling to offer home health care, seeing it as a way to integrate her faith with her work as a nurse. She’s also completing studies to become accredited to work in faith community nursing, hoping to work in health care ministry with the diocese.

Ellsworth was disabled 12 years ago, suffering five strokes in nine months. He sees his disabilities as an avenue for helping others.

“I like doing whatever I can. If I see someone who is broken, I try to help,” he said.

That help can take the form, he said, of “directing people to jobs, taking people to the doctor, or just helping people to find the help they need.”

Both Silvaria and Ellsworth believe that the impact of the World Meeting of Families and of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia has changed them forever and say it’s a wonderful way for them to prepare for their new life together.

“What I’ve learned at this conference has become a part of me, it’s become a part of us,” Ellsworth said.

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