By MEG WATERS     7/21/2022

While the World Meeting of Families was reconvening in June at the Vatican following a COVID-induced hiatus, about 15 families gathered at St. Juliana Falconieri parish in Fullerton to participate in a new program to help local families reinforce their love of each other and their Catholic faith.

Linda Ji, director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Orange, hopes this retreat presented by Father Tri Dinh, SJ, director of Christus Ministries from Culver City, will be the start of similar family-building retreats throughout the Diocese.

“This is a great opportunity for families to do something intentional to build their faith,” said Ji. “Often we go to women’s, men’s or couples’ retreats, or retreats for children and teens, but this is the one time that the entire family can explore their spiritual life together.”

According to their website, Christus Ministries (christusministries.org) helps Catholic parishes and institutions form young adults who have a strong sense of discipleship and a clear desire to discover and live out their callings in life. Its four pillars of faith development help young adults develop a prayer life, a discerning heart, a collaborative way of serving and a connection to parish life.

Fr. Tri Dinh blends the energy of a coach with a simple message of God’s love for the whole family. Families are given a unique opportunity to bond around their shared faith in a spirit- filled afternoon.

“My team at Christus Ministries and I believe that young adults and young families are both underserved groups in the Catholic Church – and an untapped treasure,” Fr. Tri Dinh said.

He said he has big plans to tap into families to make them stronger in faith.

The purpose of the two-hour retreat, followed by Mass and dinner, is to look at the role of family life and how it calls each member to the path of holiness.

The session zeros in on three critical elements of becoming a holy family. Through the grace of Baptism, each member of the family becomes God’s favorite “Hiding Place.” This is a simple concept that helps everyone orient themselves in relationship to God. It is understood that when we become God’s favorite hiding place, we welcome God into our lives. A family that is God’s favorite hiding place is a sacred place to live. It’s a beautiful concept that even the youngest child can understand, yet it is also profound.

While at the retreat, families gather to discuss how they are “God’s favorite hiding place” and then break out into age-appropriate activities. The most important part is when families reunite and discuss, many for the first time, spirituality as a family. With God now “hiding” within each member, God’s holiness has a dwelling place within the family. As a family, each member contributes to the holiness of the entire family.

The retreat also gives parents a chance to talk about their faith and share with other parents what it is like to raise faith-filled children.

Christus Ministries partners with parishes to build a bridge for young adults and young families. So far, Christus has been invited to build community in several Orange County parishes, hoping that more pastors will consider a partnership with Christus.

St. Pope John Paul II launched the World Meeting of Families in 1994, as part of the United Nations celebration of the Year of the Family. In a beautiful letter, St. John Paul II speaks about building a civilization of love beginning within the family.

“The civilization of love evokes joy: joy, among other things, for the fact that a man has come into the world (cf. Jn 16:21), and consequently because spouses have become parents. The civilization of love means “rejoicing in the right” (cf. 1 Cor 13:6). But a civilization inspired by a consumerist, anti-birth mentality is not and cannot ever be a civilization of love. If the family is so important for the civilization of love, it is because of the particular closeness and intensity of the bonds which come to be between persons and generations within the family. However, the family remains vulnerable and can easily fall prey to dangers which weaken it or actually destroy its unity and stability. As a result of these dangers, families cease to be witnesses of the civilization of love and can even become a negation of it, a kind of counter-sign. A broken family can, for its part, consolidate a specific form of “anti-civilization,” destroying love in its various expressions, with inevitable consequences for the whole of life in society.”

Families who give God a hiding place in their hearts and at the center of their family life will, step by step, build a solid and holy civilization of love.