The World Meeting of Families is underway, and it is exhausting -- so much to see and hear and think about! It's also very late as I write this, so I'll offer just a few disjointed thoughts on the first day of the congress.
1. First of all, the organizers of the World Meeting of Families deserve a gold medal. It's frightening to think about the logistics behind a weeklong conference with dozens of speakers and more than 17,500 registered participants from more than 100 countries -- oh, and a visit from Pope Francis that's expected to draw more than a million people.
And yet it's all running like a Swiss watch. Registration was a breeze. Each event started and ended on time, practically to the second. The microphones all worked. The lighting changed on cue. And the lines at the women's restrooms were only slightly ridiculous.
After more than three years of preparation, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput was obviously relieved to see the World Meeting of Families finally here and going so smoothly. At the opening ceremony, he said, "It's a very, very happy moment for me, to finally be able to say, after all of these months: Welcome to the World Meeting of Families 2015, and welcome to the city of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection."
2. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, underscored the significance of the event, telling reporters that the World Meeting of Families will "doubtless have a great effect on the discussion of the bishops" at the Synod on the Family next month in Rome.
3. There are so many bishops, priests and habited religious sisters here -- and so many young ones. It's really encouraging to see.
4. Bishop Robert Barron gave the opening keynote address and was his usual powerhouse self. His theme was "Living as the Image of God: Created for Joy and Love," and he hit all his favorite (and excellent) points: There is no greater humanism than Christianity. The glory of God is a human being fully alive. God is not in competition with his creation. Wealth, pleasure, power and honor will not satisfy the deepest longing of my heart. "Freedom for excellence" is the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless. (You become a "free" golfer, for example, not by swinging the club any way you want, he explained, but through discipline of the mind and body.)
The main point of his talk, Bishop Barron said, was this: "The image of God is a mission and a responsibility." As beings created in the image of God, we are called to be priests, prophets and kings. "The family is the place where we are taught to be priests, prophets, kings," he said.
5. The opening Mass was just beautiful -- so well organized, so well executed. The music was great, Archbishop Chaput's homily was simple and inspiring, and the seemingly endless parade of concelebrating priests and bishops was almost comical, yet so inspiring.
At the end of the day, the Archdiocese of Seattle's pilgrims bused back to our hotel inspired, and ready for bed.