By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
While all eyes were on Pope Francis during his first visit to the U.S., 18,000 people gathered in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27 for the eighth international World Meeting of Families, including a dozen or so from the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Deacon Stephen Bowling, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Family Ministries, was one of them.
He described the experience as “once in a lifetime” and “re-energizing” in an interview last week.
“It was flawlessly executed. It was amazing to be among people from over 100 different countries and dozens of languages” all discussing issues critical to families in today’s society, he said.
The theme for the international gathering was “Love is Our Mission, The Family Fully Alive.”
Among the numerous speakers — which included Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, Dr. Scott Hahn and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley — who led talks, Deacon Bowling was particularly impressed with Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.
In his presentation titled “The Family: A Home for the Wounded Heart,” Cardinal Tagle said that the wounds “that affect our families today are many, immense and deep,” according to a story from Catholic News Service.
Deacon Bowling recalled that Cardinal Tagle spoke of reaching out to all God’s people so that “no one is left unaided by the Joy of the Gospel.”
“He was so engaging. He took the subject of brokenness and engaged the audience with that and went really deep,” he said.
Deacon Bowling became director of the Office of Family Ministries in August and said he intends to continue the pastoral care of families at all stages, but plans to focus particularly on engaging young families.
Deacon Bowling was ordained to the diaconate in 2008 and serves at St. Gabriel Church where he and his wife, Susan, have raised their three children: Carolyne, 22; Emily, 21; and Thomas, 14.
Deacon Bowling holds a bachelor of arts degree from Bellarmine University and a master of arts degree in theology from St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. For a number of years, he has assisted couples and families who are preparing for the sacraments of marriage and baptism at St. Gabriel.
Bob Sugrue, who helps lead adult faith formation at St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky., also attended the World Meeting of Families last month and called the international conference an “unbelievable experience.”
Seeing people from all around the world highlighted the “universality” of the Catholic Church, Sugrue said.
“You don’t really see it until you are immersed in it,” he said. “To be able to see that is a great blessing.”
For Deacon Jack Koenig, who serves at St. Margaret Mary Church, seeing the joy people brought to the meeting was infectious.
“You cannot imagine the joy people had at the meeting, how excited everyone was to be there and to focus on the family,” Deacon Koenig said.
Deacon Koenig and his wife Donna said they attended the world conference in order to learn and engage with others who worked with families.
“We thought it would be an excellent source of learning for us as a family, for our individual families, our children’s families,” Deacon Koenig said. “Then when they said the pope was coming, it just made it even more exciting.”
Deacon Greg and Pat Klinglesmith said the conference aided the work they do with sacrament preparation at St. Peter the Apostle Church.
The Klinglesmiths attended a keynote address by Dr. Scott Hahn, a Catholic theologian and author, who gave a talk titled: “Back to the Garden of Eden: Unearthing God’s Covenant with Humankind.”
“Both of us are doing Theology of the Body classes at St. Peter the Apostle,” Deacon Klinglesmith said regarding the program that is based on a series of 129 talks given by St. John Paul II.
Deacon Bob Caspar, who serves at St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., St. Ambrose Church in Cecilia, Ky., and St. Ignatius Church in White Mills, Ky., called the World Meeting of Families conference “dynamic.”
He said one of the things he took away from the meeting was the “need to take ownership of our faith.”
There is a popular misconception, he said, that the only thing a good Catholic needs to do is “to come to church and go to confession.”
“We need to read the Bible. If you have questions, seek people who have the knowledge,” he said.