As Cardinal Donald Wuerl issued his new pastoral plan to broaden outreach for marriage and family life, the congregation at the special Mass on March 4 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle included families from across the Archdiocese of Washington, representing the 139 parishes in the District of Columbia and five surrounding Maryland counties.

They had been invited to the Mass where the cardinal announced the document, Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family, a pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation on that topic.

After Mass, Cardinal Wuerl greeted the families personally and handed them copies of the pastoral plan, which he said was a sign of the commitment of parishes and individual Catholics to renew their efforts to share the joy of love in marriage and family life, especially to those facing challenges, and to accompany families on the journey to encounter Christ and experience his love and mercy.

The families at the Mass came from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, representing the diversity of the archdiocese, and from parishes along city streets, suburban neighborhoods and in the rural countryside. The Massgoers included young families holding babies, middle-aged families kneeling beside teen-age children, and senior citizens who have grandchildren.

As the cardinal gave his homily describing the pastoral plan, occasional sounds of babies or small children could be heard in the expanse of the majestic cathedral, and after mothers and fathers received Communion, some walked back to their pews cradling infants in their arms or holding the hands of their toddlers.

After Mass, the families waited to meet the cardinal, who handed the parents a copy of the pastoral plan and gave children rosaries blessed by Pope Francis.

The pastoral plan encourages parish priests, staff and volunteers to support married couples and families in all stages of life, by reaching out to engaged and newly married couples and young families, involving older couples and adults, and reaching out to families in special circumstances, like immigrant families, families in the military, families with members that have special needs, people in ecumenical and interfaith marriages, single parents and families of divorce, and families with loved ones who identify with same-sex attraction.

Participating families interviewed after the Mass said they welcomed the cardinal’s initiative to expand and strengthen outreach to married couples and families.

“I think it’s a great idea, the fact he (the cardinal) is making an effort to bring in families from all around the archdiocese, to inform us, energize us and let us go back to our parishes to share the message,” said Peter Righi of St. Pius X Parish in Bowie, Maryland, who attended the Mass with his wife Mayka and their three sons, Julian, Andrew and Sebastian.

Mayka Righi agreed, adding, “Families need to get a little more involved. We’re all busy with work, family, school and life in general, all the commitments we have. It’s good to get us all together, to reach out in the community and to become more of a family in the parish.”

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia emphasized the importance of parishes providing pastoral care to families, especially those facing challenges, and noted the parish is “a family of families.”

Also waiting in line to meet Cardinal Wuerl and receive the pastoral plan were Jasmine Smith and her husband McBurnett Smith III from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Washington, joined by their children McBurnett IV, Jason and Jordyn.

“A lot of our issues in society are stemming from a breakdown in family values,” said Jasmine Smith. “It’s great he (the cardinal) is promoting those values and trying to strengthen them.”

Those meeting the cardinal included Oscar and Cindy Mendez from St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, joined by their young sons Samuel and Rafael.

“I think it’s a great approach, because the family needs the Good News of the Gospel, and the cardinal is doing a great job bringing families together from all over the archdiocese,” said Oscar Mendez, who added, “It’s a tremendous blessing to feel part of the unity of the Church.”

He noted that the greatest blessings experienced by him and his wife included their marriage of nine years and their children, with another baby due at the end of the month.

“We’re thankful to God for his generosity toward us,” said Cindy Mendez.

Emmanuel Ajayi of St. Matthias the Apostle Parish in Lanham, Maryland, attended the Mass with two of his daughters and his mother. He said he regarded the pastoral plan as “an enhancement of what the pope is all about – the family, bringing the family together, the body of Christ together as one family.”

Jessica and Justin Rydstrom from St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Washington attended the Mass with their three children, Nathaniel, John and Ansley.

“We think it’s great,” said Jessica Rydstrom. “We applaud the Church’s pastoral efforts to families of all kinds. It’s a recognition on the part of the Church that families come in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders, and we hope all families are able to find the welcome in the Church that we have found.”

After the Mass, some people enjoyed breakfast items together in a meeting room downstairs as part of the cathedral’s regular efforts at hospitality.

Francis and Piyarat Trinh, a married couple who are parishioners of St. Matthew’s, reflected on the importance of the pastoral plan. Francis Trinh said he believed that too often divorced Catholics have felt they are not welcome in the Church.

“We lost a lot of people who are faithful to God,” he said, praising the leadership of Pope Francis and his efforts to reach out to people who have felt abandoned by the Church in the past. “He understands ordinary people and that no matter what, they still want to be closer to God. Pope Francis has welcomed them back to the Church.”

The cover of the pastoral plan was illustrated by a photo of a sculpture of the Holy Family, and Piyarat said Jesus, Mary and Joseph offer a great example for today’s families.

“They believed in God, they trusted in God, and followed what God asked,” she said.