Joy, love, solidarity draw local couples to World Meeting of Families

Categories: Around the Diocese,World Meeting of Families


Deacon Jim and Bonnie Schulzetenberg have worked together running Jim’s Electric Service for 37 years. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Bonnie Schulzetenberg’s house is draped in red hearts every February as she prepares a special meal her kids affectionately deemed the “love feast” — a family tradition that began when she and her husband, Deacon Jim Schulzetenberg, were first married.

“We weren’t always able to go out for a fancy dinner on Valentine’s Day when our kids were little,” Bonnie said, “so I would serve something I hadn’t made before, deck the table out with glassware and cloth napkins, put up a few decorations — even move the table so it wasn’t the same as every other night — and we would celebrate together as a family.”

world-meeting-of-families-philadelphia-2015-logoFor 38 years, the Schulzetenbergs have celebrated what it means to be family, and they are two of 37 people signed up to attend the St. Cloud Diocese’s pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families in September in Philadelphia — an event that includes Mass with Pope Francis. The theme of the gathering is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”

“For us, it was kind of a ‘no-brainer,’ ” Deacon Jim said. “We believe in families — whether it is our family, our church family or the family next door. We are responsible for building up the church together, and it starts in the family.”

The couple, parishioners of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel in Long Prairie, has ministered to other families and couples all of their married life — Bonnie as a catechist and Deacon Jim as a deacon working with families coming into the church as well as baptisms. They also serve in a shared ministry of marriage preparation and as marriage course presenters.

“What drew us in to the World Meeting of Families was the theme of joy and love,” Bonnie said. “We hear so much in the media about the difficulties of marriage and having kids. We hear about this ‘culture of death.’ But we have seen how it strengthens a marriage to be faithful to the church. We are excited to be with people who want to talk about a culture of life. And the fact that Pope Francis will be there is the cherry on top of the cake.”

What families need

Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud, received an invitation to be one of the speakers at the event that spans the week of Sept. 22-28.

Her presentation, titled “Feeding the Hungry: Meeting the Material and Spiritual Needs of the Family in a Local Parish,” will offer practical tips on what parishes can do to help families create a future in the church.

“My hope is to give people ideas on what they can do at the parish level,” Codden said. “But I also want to know what ideas they have. What better place to collect a magnitude of ideas from people from all over the world?”

Deacon Jim is excited to hear new ideas, thoughts and inspiration to use in his parish ministry. And he ponders questions that he hopes will be answered at the conference.

“How do we bring the Good News to people?” he said. “Pope Francis tells us that we need to bring joy to the reality of what we do each day. How do we build up the ordinary aspects of life in a joyful, positive way?”

Codden plans to compile the ideas attendees share, publish them and give the list back to the World Meeting of Families.
“Whether you are going or not going to this event, this is something we all need to pray for. We, as church, really need to pray intentionally for the future of the family,” Codden said.

Seeing the bigger picture

Alejandra and Mario Mancilla, parishioners of St. Leonard in Pelican Rapids, are also attending the World Meeting of Families.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Alejandra said. “We have been learning a lot about family and what that means. We think attending the conference will help us grow personally and spiritually, and then it will show us how to help others in our community.”

The Mancillas are eucharistic ministers and help coordinate events in their parish.

“Being with others who share the same passion for family will give us a broader view of the world and everything that is going on, not just in our little community,” she said. “We are not the only ones struggling. We are not the only ones facing the same issues. We are all looking for a better life for our families.”

The Schulzetenbergs agree.

“The world is bigger than us, our family and the town we live in,” Bonnie said. “We feel we are going as representatives of our church community, and we know that when we come back, we can bring what we’ve experienced both spiritually and educationally and apply it to our own families.”

Catechesis on the family
By Chris Codden
For The Visitor

Last October, Pope Francis convened the synod on the family in Rome, gathering 253 bishops, priests and laity from around the world to discuss current issues facing the family today.

In October of this year, he will convene the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will look at the issues surfaced last year in order to develop and clarify “the road to truth and mercy for all” (“Relatio Synodi”).

In his letter to families, Pope Francis said: “This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church.” The Holy Father asked the faithful “to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synodal Fathers and guide them in their important task.”

In the midst of these two important synods is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September. The meeting takes place every third year and is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families. The theme chosen for this year’s gathering is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” emphasizing the impact of the love and life of families on our society. From this theme, a catechesis was developed to serve as the backbone of the meeting as well as the events leading up to it.

The catechesis explains “how all of Catholic teaching about sex, marriage and the family flows from our basic beliefs about Jesus … in a fresh, insightful and accessible” way, according to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. By studying the catechesis, we can learn, reflect and grow so all the faithful can serve the Lord in our parishes, our church and the world.

In the next six months, a series of articles and stories will be appearing in The Visitor, covering the 10 steps or chapters of the catechesis. Since all six dioceses in Minnesota will be embarking on this same educational series, each of the diocesan directors will be contributing to the content.

Accompanying the article describing each particular chapter will be a human interest story to provide examples and experiences from various people, couples or groups across our state. Also included in the series will be reflection questions to engage a deeper sense of how this affects our lives.

The issues that face us as a church and society in today’s world warrant our full attention. To know, understand and be able to share the Good News of the Gospel with our friends and family takes an intentional and continued effort. It is only through this thoughtful educational experience that we can truly reach out and help our youth, young adults, family, friends and neighbors to understand the beauty and sanctity of life and marriage.

Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. The preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families is available at