After three years of careful preparation by all the Catholic dioceses in Ireland, the ninth World Meeting of Families finally arrived in August, and I had the honor to attend representing our Archdiocese of Washington.

In his 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis identifies the joys and challenges faced by families in their daily lives. At the same time all, these experiences are visible reflected in the life of our Church.

Our group included family life ministers from Dallas, San Bernardino in California and Victoria Island in Canada, and we had the blessing to be accompanied by three priests and one deacon, as we excitedly awaited the arrival of the Holy Father.

The first day of our arrival in Dublin, EWTN’s reporter on the streets of Dublin surprised us. He interviewed me, and also Father Dean Henderson, the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Sooke, British Columbia, Canada. When asked about our expectations for this gathering, we both agreed that Pope Francis’s message would confirm our faith and deepen our relationship with Jesus as we continue to work on building this culture of marriage and family life.

The main theme for the 2018 World Meeting of Families was “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World”. The theme  was chosen by Pope Francis from the opening words of Amoris Laetitia. The key topics during the conferences were: The role of technology in the family; the impact of conflict on families and children; building a more sustainable approach to the economy, work and the environment; faith and family; women’s leadership roles, globally and locally; the role of education in raising families out of poverty.

The events for each day had a key theme from The Joy of Love:

Day One (Aug. 21): The opening ceremony’s theme was: The Joy of Love in Families is also the Joy of the Church.

Day Two (Aug. 22): Pastoral Congress theme: The Family and Faith (AL chapters 1-3). 

Day Three (Aug. 23): Pastoral Congress theme – The Family and Love. (AL chapters 4-6)

Day Four (Aug. 24): Pastoral Congress theme – The Family and Hope. (AL chapters 7-9).

Day Five (Aug. 25): Festival of Families theme – The Family: Celebrating with Joy!

Day Six (Aug. 26): Theme of the final Mass – The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.

This year’s World Meeting of Families was a moment to lift up our hearts and look toward a brighter future, to remind us that our families provide the foundation for the Church and society, and we have a mission to support and encourage them.

The blessings received from the gathering were many, as we encountered brothers and sisters  from  all over the world who work in this wonderful mission, to share common experiences and best practices among us and  to  learn about new initiatives and how to re-engage our families in their Catholic faith. As Cardinal Wuerl noted in his pastoral plan on Amoris Laetitia : “We are called to recognize that beyond assurance of a doctrinal statement we need to encounter the people entrusted to our care in their concrete situations they live and accompany them on a journey of growth in the faith.”

 (Carla Ferrando-Bowling serves as the director of the Office of Family Life for the Archdiocese of Washington.)