A Family Affair: Meet the Families Representing the Diocese of Camden at the World Meeting of Families

Bishop Dennis Sullivan congratulates the Cotto/Reyes family of Mary, Queen of All Saints Parish, Pennsauken on Aug. 17, when the family was presented with tickets to attend the World Meeting of Families. Photo by James A. McBride
Bishop Dennis Sullivan congratulates the Cotto/Reyes family of Mary, Queen of All Saints Parish, Pennsauken on Aug. 17, when the family was presented with tickets to attend the World Meeting of Families.
Photo by James A. McBride

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, sponsored an essay contest open to all diocesan families for tickets to the World Meeting of Families theological congress. Eight families representing the entire geographic area of the diocese were selected to receive tickets. The World Meeting of Families congress’ theme was “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”

In interviews, 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.

Meet the Shields family

Vicky Shields believes the best way to bring children up in the faith is by parents getting involved and bringing the kids along. That could explain why she applied to attend the World Meeting of Families congress this week in Philadelphia with three of her eight children: Christopher, Kathleen and James.

The family was not disappointed with the week’s events. The younger Shields especially enjoyed the emphasis on helping the poor, as well as the music at the congress, Vicky said.

On Sept. 22, the opening day of the congress, Shields listened to keynote speaker, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, of the famed documentary film series “Catholicism.”

“I was thrilled to hear what [Bishop Barron] had to say,” she said. “He talked about not keeping our faith to ourselves. He encouraged me to be bolder in the secular world.”

Shields has years of experience sharing faith with kids. She trained to become a youth minister in the Diocese of Camden and first served at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Haddon Heights. Today, the Shields family belongs to the Parish of St. Gabriel the Archangel in Carneys Point where her work with children has focused on running kids’ clubs for boys and girls ranging in age from kindergarten to the pre-teen years.

She is also a busy homeschooling mom, with over 20 years of experience teaching at home. For Vicky, working with kids is a labor of love.

“I have a real heart for ministry, and I love having an opportunity to share with kids,” she said.

The key to keeping the children and youth engaged, according to Shields, is getting them to take on greater roles as they mature.

“The crucial part of faith formation is to invite them into leadership. It solidifies their faith,” she said.

The Shields will take their experiences from the World Meeting of Families back home with them to St. Gabriel’s, where two of her adult children will be teaching CCD this year. Christopher and Kathleen will help her start two new faith groups for elementary-aged children.

“Everything I heard I will use in ministry,” Shields said. “I was taking it all in and will be able to use that with the children in the clubs. … I want to be able to instill in other children in the parish what I’ve done for my own kids.”

Meet the Cotto/Reyes family

“I see miracles all the time,” says Ivette Cotto who, along with husband Pedro Reyes and two of their five children, attended the World Meeting of Families theological congress this week.

When it comes to the World Meeting of Families week of events, Cotto says, “It was a miracle for me to be there.”

The Cotto/Reyes family has had a lot of opportunities to witness God at work in their lives. Life hasn’t been easy. They left their home in Puerto Rico 14 years ago to make a new life in the U.S. It was not a change that the family sought.

“It was difficult to make the move,” Cotto said. Pedro was a jewelry maker, but work was hard to find. So he and Cotto “put everything in God’s hands.” When they came to the U.S., “doors opened,” Cotto said.

Now Pedro works as a handyman at their parish, Mary, Queen of All Saints in Pennsauken. After studying at Rowan University, Cotto works as an elementary Spanish teacher in the Penns Grove school district.

For both of them, parish life is the center of their family’s life. Praying the rosary is the devotion that sustains them. They pray together every day, and often invite friends into their home to pray with them. It’s part of the way they strive to build community in their parish through its Hispanic ministry program.

The ministry has grown in recent years, sponsoring numerous events, including parish celebrations for Marian feast days.

“We decorate in the church and continue the celebration in the church hall with music, decorations, and food,” Cotto said.

The growing tradition provides a way of sharing the different cultures that are part of the parish, whether Puerto Rican, Mexican or Dominican.

“We work with the whole parish community, not just the Spanish-speaking or the English-speaking community,” Cotto said. She echoes their pastor, Father Timothy Byerley, who stresses that “the parish should be one.”

She believes that the World Meeting of Families has given her family an opportunity to bring blessings back to their parish.

“There are so many families who are struggling because they don’t have faith in their lives,” she said.

The couple hopes to use what they’ve learned to inspire their community.

“One of the things that I want to bring back to my parish,” Cotto said, “is that we have to take the faith that we have to others.”