Family First

Imagine your parish has invited you to be a part of a focus group on ‘families’ under the Identity and Community Foundation. The leading question is ‘What constitutes a family?’

You think hard, but then realise that today, families fall into a myriad of categories. But opinions aside on the makeup of families, one thing is certain - families are the bedrock of our society underpinned by love.

Well this happened to me. The focus group I participated in tossed round ideas of family based on gender, numbers that make up a family, perceptions, societal expectations, and even religious beliefs. But one thing the group agreed on, is that solid relationships result in building solid families whatever the situation. Work families, parish families, sporting families and fractured families are all part of the social fabric of our communities.

Pope Francis on Twitter tells us that, "There is no perfect family. We have no perfect parents, we are not perfect, do not get married to a perfect person, neither do we have perfect children. We have complaints about each other. We are disappointed by one another. Therefore, there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival. Without forgiveness, the family becomes a theatre of conflict and a bastion of grievances. Without forgiveness, the family becomes sick. Forgiveness is the sterilisation of the soul, cleansing the mind and the liberation of the heart” (Twitter December 2018).

For the past 20 years, Families Australia has celebrated National Families Week and invited families from across the country to celebrate being together through a range of activities and events. The celebrations began yesterday and run through to Friday May 20. All details are available on

But National Families Week is a warmup to Pope Francis’ World Meeting of Families (WMOF). He is calling us here in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to be a part of a global celebration.

A potted history outlines that the World Meeting of Families 2022 is the tenth meeting  and was  scheduled to take place in RomeItaly. It would have been the third such gathering at this location, following on from the first ever event of its kind in 1994 and a second time in 2000. The event was originally due to be held between 23 and 27 June 2021.

On May 17, 2019 Pope Francis announced, in a statement which was made public by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, that he had picked "Family love: a vocation and a path to holiness” to serve as the theme for the 2021 World Meeting of Families.

Heeding advice, on 20 April 2020 Pope Francis postponed the 2021 World Meeting of Families to June 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vatican claimed it was postponed, "Due to the current health situation and its consequences for the movement and gathering of young people and families.”

The WMOF is a great opportunity for Catholics on the local level to renew their commitment to family ministry in solidarity with diocesan communities from around the world and the Diocese of Rome. There will be local events happening all over our Diocese, reflections and moments of prayer to coincide with the gathering in Rome.

Whatever your role in the Diocese, you are invited to conduct or participate in an event between June 22-26 to involve your community members and build upon family connections.

On the Diocesan website, there is information about the World Meeting of Families and you can check out the events that will occur during the week in your area. Please feel welcome to add your own event or enquire about existing events.

Between the end of National Families Week (20 May) and World Meeting of Families beginning on 22 June, why not spend some time with your family and community planning out a range of events that will strengthen connections and inspire and engage your family too.

Here are a few starters that will help you discover creative, fun and engaging activities to connect with your family and even spark some faith-filled conversations:

  • Words have the power to lift spirits, especially to those family members who feel cut off or isolated. Why not write a message from the heart to show you care?
  • Place a gratitude jar in the home or workplace to create a visual reminder of the blessings in our lives. Invite people to write three things they are thankful for and place them in the jar.
  • Head out in nature as there is something spiritually positive in experiencing a sense of peace as you take a long loving look through creation. Engage your senses – see, listen, smell and touch- then reflect on what you have experienced.
  • Be a part of the intricate web of creation. Get out in the garden, plant some seeds then imagine what the garden will look like when full of beautiful flowers and rows of vegetables
  • Preparing and cooking food together is an act of love and a great way of expressing care for others. We connect when we share a meal. Encourage children to get involved in cooking by choosing simple and easy-to-make recipes. Laugh and talk as you cook, then enjoy the fruits of your togetherness.
  • Make praying together with a visual experience. We can then see the world of children who are too young to read and write through a different lens. Children can share their prayers through colour and prayer.
  • Love a good sing-along? Perhaps a family night where you showcase the diverse gifts and talents God has blessed each member with will provide many light-hearted moments.

The dates 22-26 June are a great way to reconnect through fun, food, family, faith and even fitness. Pope Francis is encouraging us all to work together to become one community in Christ. Catch you at an event throughout that week!



Heavenly Father,
We come before You to praise You
and to thank You for the great gift of the family….

May they rediscover each day the grace they have received,
and as small domestic Churches,
may they know how to witness to Your presence
and to the love with which Christ loves the Church.
We pray to You for all families faced with difficulty and suffering
caused by illness or circumstances of which only You know.
Sustain them and make them aware
of the path to holiness upon which You call them,
so that they might experience Your infinite mercy
and find new ways to grow in love.
We pray to You for children and young people:
may they encounter You and respond joyfully
to the vocation You have in mind for them;
We pray for parents and grandparents: may they be aware
that they are signs of the fatherhood and motherhood of God
in caring for the children who, in body and spirit, You entrust to them;
and for the experience of fraternity that the family can give to the world
Lord, grant that each family
might live their specific vocation to holiness in the Church
as a call to become missionary disciples,
in the service of life and peace,
in communion with our priests, religious,
and all vocations in the Church.

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Helene O'Neill Image
Helene O'Neill

Helene O'Neill is the Parish-Family Liaison Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.