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Five years of welcoming today’s families

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SAN DIEGO — Family is worth celebrating.

That’s the message that the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality hopes to convey with its upcoming Family Mass.

The liturgy will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 23, at two locations. Bishop Robert McElroy will offer the Mass at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Scripps Ranch, while Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano will preside over the liturgy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in El Centro.

“(The synchronization is) purposeful, almost like … it’s one Mass and we’re just celebrating it in two different places,” said John Prust, the office’s director.

The Mass in San Diego will be preceded and followed by other activities, including a Family Rosary at 10 a.m. and a resource fair, featuring representatives of various marriage and family ministries. The resource fair will be held for an hour before and after the Mass. Food also will be available for purchase.

The Family Mass coincides with the fifth anniversary of the conclusion of the Diocese of San Diego’s Synod on the Family in October 2016. The diocesan synod was inspired by the Synod of Bishops that was held on the same topic in 2014 and 2015 at the Vatican and by Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), which was published in March 2016.

Among the 15 proposals that emerged from the San Diego Diocese’s synod was a mandate for restructuring what was then known as the Office for Marriage and Family Life. That office was replaced by the present-day Office for Family Life and Spirituality, which since its inception has worked to decentralize marriage and family ministry by empowering parish-based ministries and has reached out to marginalized communities, including the divorced. Many parishes offer these ministries in Spanish, serving the particular needs of Hispanic families.

Prust said representatives of many parish-based marriage and family ministries will follow Bishop McElroy in procession into St. Gregory the Great Church for the Mass and also will host informational tables at the resource fair.

Janelle Peregoy, the Office for Family Life and Spirituality’s associate director for separated and divorced ministry, explained that gathering these ministries together is “one of the big impulses of the Family Mass.” She said the event will remind members that each of their groups is “part of a bigger picture.”

This isn’t the first time that the Office for Family Life and Spirituality has organized a major event to celebrate an anniversary. In October 2018, marking its second anniversary, the office held a special Mass, picnic and concert at the University of San Diego. The event served as the conclusion of a half-day conference for parish leaders titled “Our Families, Our Future: Creating Cultures of Welcome.”

Among the accomplishments in marriage and family ministry since the synod has been the spread of a “marriage catechumenate mindset,” said Prust. About one-third of diocesan parishes have adopted Witness to Love, a marriage preparation program that pairs an engaged couple with a mentor couple from their own parish.

Msgr. Steven Callahan, pastor of St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach, said the introduction of mentor couples has been “a huge benefit in our parish.” Over the past three years, the parish has had more than 70 couples serve as mentors. In addition to preparing the engaged for marriage, he said the program has “enriched the lives” of the mentor couples.

At Santa Sophia Parish in Spring Valley, the Synod on the Family inspired several programs, which are still ongoing, said the pastor, Father Devdas Masillamony. Among them are the parish’s monthly “Date Night” events, which are held for 10 consecutive months followed by a two-month break, and a program for divorced and separated parishioners.

“The purpose was to create … a community where people feel they are welcomed,” said Father Masillamony, reflecting on the synod. He acknowledged that his parish has had noticeable success in this area.

Looking ahead to the Family Mass, Peregoy noted that there are “so many times when we as a Church talk about the importance of family,” but the upcoming event provides the opportunity “to celebrate family life and the joy of being together.”

After months of pandemic, that’s especially poignant.

“Families come in so many different permutations and face so many different realities,” she said, “but anytime we gather to celebrate the love of Christ together, we’re living the Gospel.”

For more information about the Family Mass, visit sdcatholic.org/familylife, email bolivero@sdcatholic.org or call (858) 490-8299.

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