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Diocese Celebrates Family with Mass, Picnic and Concert

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — Families from throughout the diocese were invited to a special Mass and concert designed with them specifically in mind.

The event, which was held Oct. 19 on the campus of the University of San Diego, was open to all families.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy presided over Mass in The Immaculata Church, joined by Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan and concelebrating priests. Internationally-known Father Leo Patalinghug, founder of Plating Grace, an apostolate that uses the culinary arts in evangelization, was the homilist.

The concert featured a performance by Catholic singer-songwriter Sarah Hart with special guest Pedro Rubalcava, also a well-known cantor and composer.

Between the Mass and concert, there were food trucks available on campus. Families were encouraged to purchase food or to bring their own picnic dinners and enjoy a meal outdoors in the twilight.

The Mass, picnic and concert also served as a conclusion to “Our Families, Our Future: Creating Cultures of Welcome,” a half-day conference for parish leaders that had been held that afternoon.

The conference included a keynote presentation in English by Father Patalinghug and in Spanish by Rubalcava. Attendees had a choice of breakout sessions led by Father Patalinghug, Rubalcava, Hart and Ricardo Marquez, associate director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality, followed by a panel discussion featuring all four.

The priests of the diocese, for whom this conference took the place of their annual fall assembly, attended their own breakout presented by Sister Maureen Colleary of the Franciscan Sisters of Peace.

“Why did Jesus become a piece of bread and a drop of wine?” asked Father Patalinghug during his keynote address. “Our God, the Almighty God, makes Himself bite-sizeable. And our job to be a welcoming community, a welcoming Church, is to feed people.”

And that means that we, “in a sense, have to be small, too,” he said. “We have to be able to meet people ... where they’re at.”

He emphasized that the Church must be willing to listen to and enter into dialogue with others, explaining that his own ministry is centered on gathering people around the dinner table because that is the place where people listen to one another.

Referencing the slogan of the famous Italian restaurant chain, he quipped, “The Olive Garden stole the Catholic Church’s line: ‘When you’re here, you’re family.’”

While the conference for parish leaders provided insights on what parishes could do to welcome families, the public event that followed — including the Mass and concert — showed what it looks like when those principles are put into practice.

Laura Martin-Spencer, director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality, described the event as “a concrete way to celebrate family.”

Martin-Spencer, whose office planned the event in collaboration with several other diocesan offices, acknowledged that she knows what it’s like to be “juggling a million things” as a parent. The Mass and concert, she said, was intended to give families a chance to pray together, enjoy dinner with other families, and attend a family-friendly concert. She hoped that the event offered them “a retreat from their busy — and usual — schedules and a moment to stop and just be.”

“Family is gift,” she said. “Even in the woundedness and the brokenness, let’s lift that up. That’s where love is experienced; that is where we experience God.”

In many ways, today’s families are different than those of decades past and the Church needs to find new ways to reach them, she said, but one constant has remained.

“The thing that doesn’t change is the hunger for spirituality, the hunger for connection with God and, for Catholics, the hunger for the sacraments,” she said.

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