How to (and How Not to) Welcome Families: Our Trip to Philly to See the Pope

My family was lucky enough to attend the Saturday “Festival of Families” in Philadelphia during the Pope’s visit to the US. There were some incredible moments. (You catch that story here, thanks to George from Catholic Review.) But I don’t want to give you photos of my adorable children and beautiful wife. (I’m happy to do that in person, just ask.) I’d like to ask the question:

WMOF bannerThis was a Festival for Families: how well was our family really welcomed? What did we learn about how we should welcome families in our parishes?

Welcoming families is a big deal. (If you listened to Pope Francis, it may well be the biggest deal of all.) So these questions deserve some serious reflection. For context, you should know that my wife and I have four small children, ages 7, 6, 3, and 11 months.

First, the positives…

Getting In on the Action

My kids are small. This means that when something is happening on a stage far away, they can’t see or hear it. All of us like to be in on the action, but this especially true for children. It’s not enough for them to simply be there. They need to see and hear the action. In Philadelphia there were jumbo-trons everywhere. This meant that while we walked, stood in line, and even when we arrived in the plaza where the Mass would be held, my kids could still participate because they could see and hear. It made all the difference. With this in mind:

  • If a family needs to leave the sanctuary during Mass, can they still see and hear what is going on from outside?
  • How good is the sound quality in the back of the church, where families often sit in case they need to leave suddenly?
  • Do we invite our families to sit in places where they’re sure to have unobstructed views?

Now, the negatives …

Basic Needs

Gould Family smSecurity was tight. On the Parkway where the Pope was going to arrive, there were all kinds of barricades to keep you in and off the road. Unfortunately, they forgot to make a bathroom available for families inside the barricades. We were told that for we couldn’t access the port-o-pottys for up to two hours because the Pope might be coming through. Needless to say, my six-year old with her legs crossed was not going to wait that long. The organizers clearly had not thought too hard about the needs of the families in this case. With in this in mind:

  • Do we anticipate and provide for the basic needs of families with children? (clean bathrooms, changing tables, etc.)
  • When families have unexpected “emergencies” or difficulties, are we patient and flexible, or do we make them feel they’re an unwelcome distruption?

Welcoming families means so much more than just deciding to have a family-centered event. It’s a question of keeping them in mind as we plan the entire experience. If we think about families as we plan in our parishes, they will think about us as they plan their lives.

What do you think? What does your parish do to truly welcome families?


2 replies
  1. Johanna Coughlin
    Johanna Coughlin says:

    I (and the other moms and dads milling around the narthex with wandering toddlers) so appreciate this post. Any time a parish makes the daunting task of taking many small Catholics along with us to worship, it’s a clear sign to us that we and our little guys are all welcome to be there. Simple things like a note in the bulletin about where the volume control for the narthex speakers is or an usher pointing out where restrooms with changing tables are can mean all the difference between watching the Mass in silence and missing half of it searching for bathrooms or participating with our little ones.

  2. pascosi
    pascosi says:

    Craig, great blog post. My wife and I have four young children and appreciate your post.

    Last year my wife began “Little Disciples” in our parish for children ages 3 through K to listen to the Word of God in an age-accessible way. I have seen first hand how this has 1) allowed parents greater accessibility to the liturgy of the Word, 2) allowed young children to come away from Mass learning something other than “sit still” or “be quiet” or “if you do X again, no donuts for you after Mass,” and 3) evangelized parents (or a non-practicing spouse) who don’t normally come to Mass (because Mass isn’t just a wrestling match, and out of desire to impart some faith to their youngest ones).

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