Armagh festival celebrates the 'mini church' of the family
AFTER the long build up, the World Meeting of Families will finally get underway on Tuesday with a series of opening events.
Dublin will host a lead ceremony, with Ireland's other 25 dioceses each holding their own celebration of evening prayer.
Entitled Le chéile le Críost - 'together with Christ' - the liturgy is intended to gather the Church as the 'family of families' and point the World Meeting of Families on a path that leads to the closing Papal Mass next Sunday.
Some dioceses are also marking the occasion with, for example, the ringing of every church bell.
The Archdiocese of Armagh is fully embracing the WMOF spirit with a festival of families in the Shambles Market in Armagh city.
This free event is open to all, and organisers are keen to stress that this fully includes friends and neighbours who are not Catholic, thus reflecting the broad idea of 'family' and the ecumenical spirit in the WMOF programme.
Sharon Dunne from the Armagh Diocesan Pastoral Team and the diocesan delegate to the WMOF said they wanted to organise an event that would be a joyful, fun celebration of family in all its ages, shapes and sizes.
"We decided in Armagh that we wanted to have something a bit different - something that was a bit of fun and which would bring families together," said Mrs Dunne.
And because not everyone can get to the World Meeting of Families or the events with Pope Francis, it was important to organise an event that would echo their message in Armagh.
"The World Meeting of Families is an international gathering, and this is the ninth congress - it was instituted by the late, great St John Paul II - and this one is breaking all records," said Mrs Dunne.
"This is the largest ever congress, with the largest number of families attending.
"But we realise that not everyone can get to the congress, and not every family can afford to go, so parishes have been reaching out to encourage children and families to come to our festival in Armagh."
Several thousand people are expected to attend.
Not everyone can get to the congress, and not every family can afford to go, so parishes have been reaching out to encourage children and families to come to the Armagh festival
The festival starts at 5pm at the Shambles Market, with a procession to St Patrick's Cathedral from 7pm, where evening prayer will be celebrated from 7.30pm.
Along the way, there will be music from Malachi Cush, Andrea Begley and Cliona Hagan, as well as a Polish choir and a band from East Timor.
There will also be activities geared at younger members of the family - bouncy castles, face painting, bungee runs and so on - but Mrs Dunne explained the idea is for everyone, of whatever age, to have a memorable evening.
Family is, of course, at the heart of it.
In a beautiful phrase, Mrs Dunne described the family as a 'mini church'.
"For me, family is everything," she said.
"I am a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt... There is always someone you can go to with a problem and with who you share your life with."
But it is also accepted that 'family' is a broad and flexible term, including the idea of the 'church' or 'Christian' family.
"I don't think 'family' just means blood relatives. I have very good close friends - people who are they to support each other - who are 'family'.
"The realities of families are so different. We have to respect people and draw people in gently - we need a lot more love and healing."
Young people are obviously integral to families, and Mrs Dunne recognised the Church faces challenges in passing on the faith.
"Young people are very vocal about social justice and doing the right thing," she said.
"They have a tremendous honesty and sense of right and wrong.
"The Church has to give them a place to express their faith. Pope Francis is giving us new ways of reaching out to young people, and they are the ones who will need to pick up from where he is leading the Church."
Relics of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin and their daughter St Therese of Lisieux were in Armagh at the weekend, and Mrs Dunne said they were an example of how powerful family can be.
"St Therese's 'little way' is a challenge to ask what we can do to make a difference in someone else's life today," said Mrs Dunne.
"How can I be an intentional disciple in my life? How can I make someone's life better?
"It might mean doing the best for my employers, making the best meal for my family, with love - yes, it might seem mundane, but it is where God has placed me, in the 'little church' of family."
- The Armagh Festival of Families is free and open to all. It starts at 5pm on Tuesday August 21 in The Shambles Market in Armagh City. For more information, contact Sharon Dunne by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning 00353 (0) 42 933 6393 or 00353 (0) 87 641 7334.