MN World Meeting attendees assess challenges facing families

| September 23, 2015 | 0 Comments
Harlene and Romnick Tejedor from Manila, Philippines, are attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with their five children, ages 2-18: Leila, Nirel, Bohdana, Zeke and Abijah. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Harlene and Romnick Tejedor from Manila, Philippines, are attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with their five children, ages 2-18: Leila, Nirel, Bohdana, Zeke and Abijah. The congress is addressing international issues that resonate with Twin Cities Catholic leaders. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

The question of the greatest challenge facing families in Minnesota is one Jean Stolpestad regularly mulls, she said. The director of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office for Marriage, Family and Life since 2012, Stolpestad oversees initiatives and programs aimed at strengthening Catholic families.

There are a lot of challenges, she said, and it’s hard to point to just one. However, one of the biggest is the lack of “credible witnesses” — Catholics worthy of emulating. She sees many parents hitting a roadblock as witnesses when it comes to helping their children develop a relationship with Jesus.

“Every generation has to find Christ for themselves,” she told The Catholic Spirit at the beginning of the second day of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 23. “Faith can be lost in a single generation. Every person has to claim it and discover it like it’s brand new.”

Young adults are extremely spiritual, she said, but few are religious, because faith hasn’t been presented to them properly, she said. Without the Church, young people can’t discern their vocation, which wounds the priesthood, consecrated life and marriage.

“You can’t be called to that if you haven’t experienced the presence of God fully,” she said. “We can’t give what we don’t have — that sacrificial love that is present in our faith.”

In part, the challenge lies in Catholic adults’ struggle to live out their own faith, and fear looking hypocritical or inept at addressing questions of doctrine or theology, she said.

Hope lies in the fact that it’s not only the work of parents that bring children to Jesus, Stolpestad said; it’s God working in the children, and the parents get “out of the way.”

“We can’t do anything . . . but God can,” she said. “When we unite to Christ in the sacraments, in the celebration of the Eucharist, in our prayer life, we allow him to fill us, and we give that. Our children, who see our imperfections, will also see us rise again and how we depend on God and they will follow that. You take them to those [sacred] places, and you speak your prayer out loud about your struggles in prayer, so they know you’re real.”

She added: “That’s the advice I have for parents: Share your struggles. Make Christ a real person, not only in your own life, but in your children’s lives as well.”

Practical steps

There is a range of things parents can do to help their children encounter Christ. Stolpestad, a mother of three boys, said parents should model prayer and speak honestly about their own struggles.

They can also invite their children to pray with them. Stolpestad said she brought her boys when they were very young to eucharistic adoration, where they learned to speak to Jesus as a friend. One of her boys, she said, would read before the monstrance his favorite book, “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.”

“He saw Jesus as a real person, his best friend,” Stolpestad said. “We taught them that in everyday moments that he loves us and wants to be with us.”

Stolpestad acknowledged that for Catholic parents to be intentional in raising Catholic children, it’s helpful to have a plan. She described regular coffee meetings with her husband, Craig, to discuss the boys and their approach to parenting. They would note where their sons struggled and plan to help them develop certain virtues.

For example, she said, one son prioritized his personal comfort, even as a child. Fearing this could grow into self-centeredness, the Stolpestads encouraged him to be generous to others and mindful of others’ suffering. They watched him deepen his concern for others to the point of spending several months serving Venezuela’s poor and dying.

Basic needs

For Estela Villagrán Manancero, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Latino Ministry, the need for some Minnesota Latino families is much more basic: to stay together. Deportation of people who are in the country illegally has torn some families apart, she said.

The issue was among many that arose Sept. 20 during a gathering of U.S. Latino Catholics and delegates from Latin American countries attending the World Meeting of Families. Families from Venezuela, she said, said that for many families in their country struggle to obtain food staples or live in safety.

The gathering of Latino families from across the Americas fostered a sense of unity among its members, she said, and she was surprised to learn how common their struggles are.

“We are losing our youth to the media and with all the marketing and the phones,” Manancero said. “This fabulous media that we use for good, too, is being used badly, also.”

She was gratified, however, to learn that other countries are engaged in longstanding family-strengthening initiatives, and hopes that ongoing collaboration will provide support going forward.

Accompanying others

Stolpestad said she hoped during the World Meeting of Families to meet people from other cultures and build relationships of “accompaniment” in mutual struggles.

“It was so exciting to walk into that building and see thousands of men and women together to share their faith,” she said of entering the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the first time Sept. 22.

She also felt challenged by opening keynote address given by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, who urged Catholics to embrace the Eucharist as the source and summit of their faith and the central action to grow peace, love and holiness in the world.

“The desire that we have for our culture, the joy that our heart seeks, it’s so simple,” Stolpestad said. “God doesn’t hide it from us. He puts it right out there on the altar: ‘Come and worship. Come be with me.’”

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