A congress of Catholic families held once every three years in a different part of the world has concluded for the first time in the United States.
The four-day World Meeting of Families wrapped up Friday in Philadelphia, a day before the arrival of Pope Francis. Many if not most of the 17,000 participants reaffirmed the church’s traditional conception of family based on heterosexual love.
“We’re here to procreate: the man and the woman. Adam and Eve [were] our first parents,” said Nigerian pilgrim Calista Atogbo. “The family is the cocoon of the church.”
WATCH: Related video report
This notion of family is not altered by Pope Francis’s efforts to reach out to gays and lesbians, said Sister Clare, a nun with the Community of Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal in New York City.
“Acceptance? Yes. Love? Yes. Unconditional love? Absolutely,” she said. “But the sacrament of marriage is not something we have the right to tamper with. We don’t have the right to tamper with the law of gravity either.”
In an attempt to show inclusiveness in the spirit of the current pope, the World Meeting this year included a session called “Homosexuality in the Family.”
However its message was that same-sex attraction is to be suppressed. And gay and transgender groups that sought to promote a different view, that it should be celebrated, were barred from participating and ended up holding their own conference at a Methodist church.
A few blocks away from the convention center where the World Meeting of Families took place, Katie Wojtal, who was raised Catholic, sat on the terrace of one of the many cafés and bars of Philadelphia’s gay scene.
“I think families should be loving and supportive, and I think they take different shapes and forms,” she said, holding hands with her same-sex partner.
“There’s nothing I couldn’t provide a child,” she added, that a heterosexual couple could. “Procreation doesn’t take a family to happen … Procreation just takes embryos.”
Still, she likes Francis.
“I think he’s a sweet soul,” she said. “The way he lives is more of a Christ-like representation than any pope we have seen in my lifetime.”
Around the corner, Charles Cobine said he appreciated Francis’ now-famous refusal to judge homosexuals who seek God.
“It’s a nice gesture. I appreciate that,” he said. “But, frankly, I think that his views on things like the environment and poverty are probably going to have a bigger effect than probably what he feels on gay rights. And I’m okay with that.”