It feels a bit like Christmas. I’ve been waiting a whole year to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) and now the event is inching closer. Just a few more days! Finally, all the planning and preparation and prayer is about to come to fruition. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. Gina and Joseph Loehr, pictured with their five children: Anthony, 4 months, left to right, Gianna, 2, Sophia, 7, Isaac, 5, and Lucia, 4, have been invited to be presenters at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next week. The couple, members of Shepherd of the Hills Parish, Eden, are scheduled to present, “How Precious is the Family: Advice from Pope Francis on How to Love,” on Sept. 25. (Submitted photo courtesy Joan Gothard)

It was Sept. 9, 2014, when the letter from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput arrived inviting my husband Joe and I to speak at the Congress. The publisher of my books, Franciscan Media, had been asked to submit potential speakers to the WMOF organizers.

Because of the research I had done about the Holy Father for my book, “Saint Francis, Pope Francis: A Common Vision,” they proposed that I speak on a panel about Pope Francis and the family. The congress organizers asked that Joe and I speak together as a couple. We joyfully agreed, and have been working with the team of organizers ever since to prepare our talk, arrange travel plans, and explore the relevant theological themes. 

Well in advance of the logistics of event planning, however, the leaders of this global gathering put together a beautiful document, “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” This “preparatory catechesis” outlines 10 topics that affect families, laying the groundwork for the sessions that will be going on at the congress. The document is available free at and is well worth the read.

More coverage coming

Watch for a follow-up article by Gina Loehr, summarizing her experiences at the World Meeting of Families, in a future issue of the Catholic Herald.

I suspect the mood of this booklet – joyful, positive and faithful while still honest and realistic – is likely to permeate the entire event. I, for one, am excited to find out.

In fact, I had been anticipating the world meeting even before I knew this document existed or that we were going to be included among the more than 200 speakers.

In March 2014, when my book on Pope Francis was released, I sent a copy of it to Archbishop Chaput. At that point, the news was fresh that the World Meeting of Families was going to be in Philadelphia, and in my letter I told the archbishop I planned to attend. 

“I hope you do come,” was his reply. “It should be interesting.”

Interesting indeed. More than 10,000 people had registered to attend the congress as of last May. That was already 3,000 more than attended the previous world meeting in Milan. This is going to be big. I wonder who will be there?

Will it really feel international, or will the majority of visitors be from the United States? How many families will make the sacrifices necessary to bring young children? How many priests and religious will attend? How many naysayers who have a bone to pick with the Catholic Church will show up?

What will the “spirit” of the event be like? How will the discussions and conclusions of this meeting impact the Synod on the Family this October? What concrete guidance will my husband and I receive from this event as we struggle to raise our five children to love Jesus and his church? And finally, what will the pope have to tell us at the conclusion of the week during his first-ever visit to the United States? 

I feel a special love for Pope Francis whom I had the privilege to meet in person while I was in Rome in October 2013. I see in the Holy Father such an authentic witness to Gospel joy, and such astonishing courage to listen and love.

Presently, his attention is focused on listening to and loving families. Not only has he invoked the Synod on the Family, he has also been giving a weekly catechesis on the family since December 2014. And I’m sure we are about to hear more of his thoughts regarding the daunting and delicate task of nurturing our families amid the challenges of the modern world. 

In our talk for the event, Joe and I will discuss concrete and practical advice from the Holy Father for families. One of the quotes we will use that sums up so much of Pope Francis’ philosophy about family life is from his Angelus address on July 26, 2013: “How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!”

This, of course, is what so many of us in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are trying to do – to live our vocation as married couples and pass on the faith to our children. I hope the fruits of this international event will be tangible for all of us, not only those who will be in Philadelphia, but also those who follow the gathering from afar.

The World Meeting of Families remains an intriguing mystery. Like the suspense of seeing a wrapped present under the Christmas tree, I know something wonderful is about to be revealed. Just what it will be, I cannot say. But stay tuned. As soon as the big day comes, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.

(Joseph and Gina Loehr, parents of five children, are members of Shepherd of the Hills Parish, Eden. Joseph is partner-owner of Loehr Dairy, LLC, a 700-acre dairy farm that has been in his family for 130 years and Gina is an instructor of theology at Marian University of Wisconsin. A freelance author and speaker on topics including marriage, women’s issues, and spirituality, she has also served as a delegate for the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s recent study seminar during which she met Pope Francis.)