ALLOUEZ — When two Lamers motor coaches depart from Green Bay for the World Meeting of Families (WMF) Congress in Philadelphia on Sept. 22, the group of more than 100 people will represent the largest contingent of WMF pilgrims from one Wisconsin diocese.
The WMF pilgrimage is sponsored by The Compass in partnership with the Office of Family and Married Life. The Milwaukee Archdiocese and the La Crosse Diocese are also sending pilgrims, but Green Bay’s is the only one organized locally.
Most dioceses sending pilgrims to the WMF Congress — which includes two public events with Pope Francis — are using tour companies to plan their pilgrimages. The Green Bay pilgrimage is being organized by The Compass advertising and marketing manager Amy Kawula.
It is the 13th pilgrimage Kawula has planned for The Compass since 2005 and the fourth she has overseen without assistance from a tour company. The three other locally organized pilgrimages have been known as the Wisconsin Shrine Pilgrimage, annual bus pilgrimages that include stops at the state’s three Marian shrines in Hubertus, La Crosse and Champion.
Kawula said she began planning the Philadelphia pilgrimage in May 2014, six months before Pope Francis announced he would attend the WMF Congress. Once the pope confirmed his attendance, registrations for the pilgrimage picked up. Kawula said the tour sold out in March 2015.
Bishop David Ricken will accompany pilgrims for most of the trip. However, he will not join them on the motor coach ride to and from Philadelphia because of commitments with other papal stops before the congress and after the papal Mass.
According to Kawula, the pilgrimage agenda includes visits to several shrine sites and, in addition to the papal events, will be highlighted by a meeting with Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Gianna Emanuela will join the Green Bay group for dinner on Sept. 23 and speak about her mother. She was invited by Bishop Ricken to address the group.
Kawula said organizing the pilgrimage locally allowed her to plan special visits to Catholic shrines. These will include the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine in Bensalem; St. Gianna Beretta Molla Shrine in Warminster; the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia; and the Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia.
Planning the pilgrimage presented many challenges for Kawula, she said. From a hotel and food caterers to transportation around Philadelphia, she had to rely on suggestions from chamber of commerce and visitors center officials and coordinators from the shrines. The Norbertine religious community in De Pere also has an abbey in Philadelphia, said Kawula, and Norbertine Fr. Andrew Ciferni, a native of South Philadelphia, offered his assistance.
Among the 111 people participating in The Compass pilgrimage are 12 Spanish-speaking Catholics from St. Willebrord Parish in Green Bay. The group also includes members of the Madison Diocese and the St. Gianna Molla Guild of Northeast Wisconsin.
Pilgrims are also signed up to attend the World Meeting of Families daily sessions. This part of the pilgrimage is being coordinated by Peg VandeHey, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Family and Married Life.
“More than 100 speakers will address the pilgrims from around the world on love, faith and family,” said VandeHey. The congress theme is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” Catechetical materials will be used to explore the theme, she said. “I have been gathering materials and activities to help pilgrims deepen their experience of the family conference, to enhance their family life and then return as leaders and role models in marriage and family life.”
VandeHey said travel time will allow the group to explore some of these catechetical materials. “Faith-sharing and prayers will be part of the journey,” she said.
The Saturday evening Festival of Families and Sunday afternoon closing Mass with Pope Francis are the main WMF Congress attractions. Kawula said people who signed up for the congress will have special seating arrangements for the papal Mass. “Groups attending the congress will be in a gated area,” she said. “We don’t know how close we will be to the pope.”
Along with seeing Pope Francis, Kawula and VandeHey said having Bishop Ricken lead the pilgrims will make the event special.
“It will be such an honor to visit the shrines with Bishop Ricken,” said VandeHey.
“Bishop Ricken leads like Pope Francis,” said Kawula. “Doing these (pilgrimages) is fun but it’s because of Bishop Ricken that they sell out. All the people who go come back as stronger, faith-filled disciples and that spreads in the parishes.”