Families share their excitement about going to the World Meeting of Families

This is the logo for the eighth World Meeting of Families. The international gathering, inaugurated by Blessed John Paul II in 1994, will be held in late September in 2015 in Philadelphia. (CNS/courtesy of Archdiocese of Philadelphia) (Feb. 26, 2013)
This is the logo for the eighth World Meeting of Families. The international gathering, inaugurated by Blessed John Paul II in 1994, will be held in Philadelphia. (CNS/courtesy of Archdiocese of Philadelphia) (Feb. 26, 2013)

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

In interviews, participants discussed their expectations and excitement for the theological congress.

Meet the Cuentas Family

Jamaila Cuentas knows exactly what she’s looking to find at the theological congress that will kick off the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next week. “I want to know how I can engage my family … to know Jesus,” she says.

Jamaila will attend the World Meeting with other members of her family: younger sister Camille, their aunt, Eva Ramos, and cousin Junelle Bundalian.

The tickets represent a way for 26-year-old Jamaila to continue the strong faith tradition that her aunt began years ago. In fact, Jamaila credits her aunt with nurturing the faith within their large family.

Eva Ramos was the first of 10 children to come to the U.S. from the Philippines, and she paved the way for her nine younger siblings and their families to make their way to the country. Jamaila remembers growing up as part of a tight-knit group of 24 first cousins. But more importantly, she credits her aunt with “sowing the seeds of faith” in her life.

“In the main hallway upstairs, she had an altar with Mama Mary and we would gather round and pray the rosary … Growing up, I didn’t realize the impact,” Cuentas said.

Today, Jamaila, a graduate of Philadelphia University, works in the fashion industry in Manhattan as a test analyst for Macy’s, helping ensure that private label projects are safe for consumers. During the week, she lives in Montclair, N.J., but on the weekends, she comes home again to attend Mass at Our Lady of Hope, her parish in Blackwood.

“That’s home,” she says.

She and Camille often go to Mass together. During college, for a while, Jamaila fell away from the church, and it was Camille, four years younger, who inspired her to come back.

“My sister is my best friend,” says Jamaila.

When Camille was in high school, she wanted to get involved with their parish youth group, but she didn’t want to go alone. Jamaila went along and, almost immediately, was asked to help out. Together, the Cuentas sisters became involved in youth ministry, a key element in their growing faith lives.

In attending the World Meeting of Families, Jamaila hopes to continue nurturing their faith, and to bring back what she learns to share with her family and parish.

“It’s like any relationship,” says Jamaila. “You have to take care of it.”

The Arey Family

“As soon as I heard there was a World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, I was determined to go,” says Nancy Arey, a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Gloucester City.

Nancy entered the Catholic Charities essay contest with the goal of being able to help her family take part in the historic event. Along with husband Pat, she has five children ranging in age from 13-31. Grace, Nicholas and Elizabeth (Betsy), will be attending the week’s events in Philadelphia with their mother.

Nancy faces hurdles in participating in the World Meeting. She suffers from a central nervous system disorder and, although she perseveres with medication that helps her to manage the pain and fatigue that go along with her condition, at times her mobility is limited.

“I’m not going to let it stop me,” Arey said. She intends to attend all four days of the theological congress, the Festival of Families on Saturday, and the papal Mass on Sunday.

Nancy is motivated by love of faith and family, and a desire to be with like-minded Catholics.

“I’m excited to be around people who feel the way I do, who are excited about their faith.”

She especially has hopes that 13-year-old Betsy will be “embraced” with a sense of love and inclusion during the youth activities at the congress. Betsy has been diagnosed with learning disabilities, and she spends much of her school day in a special needs classroom isolated from other children in her public school. As a mother, Nancy feels the daily challenge of trying to provide Betsy with the best education possible.

Betsy says she’s looking forward to “meeting other people” at the World Meeting of Families, and her mother agrees.

Nancy adds that she wants to be “touched by the thoughts and words” of the people she encounters: “the keynote speakers, the breakout presenters and the attendee families.

“I am looking forward to being among a body of people who are passionate about their Catholic faith and about family,” she says.