“We were nominated – and a few months later we were called and told that we’d been selected,” said Tina Coorey, whose family was chosen to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, US.
“We didn’t know we were going to meet the Pope!” added Tina.
Families from Waterloo, Randwick and Kingsgrove parishes were selected to represent the Archdiocese of Sydney and attend a gathering of 20,000 delegates in September.
Tina and Thomas Coorey and their four children Samuel aged 13 (Year 7), Luke 11 (Year 6), Christian 9 (Year 3) and Gabrielle 6 (Kindergarten) were nominated by their Parish Priest at Our Lady of Fatima Kingsgrove, Father Casey Ureta.
Both the younger children attend Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School Kingsgrove.
The major gathering is held every three years and was started by Pope John Paul II, with the next planned for Dublin in 2018.
“It’s a bit like World Youth Day for families,” said Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School Kingsgrove Principal Anne Colreavy.
It took place over three and a half days culminating in a Papal Vigil where Andréa Bocelli sang.
After they arrived at the forum, the Coorey family learned they were among only six families chosen to meet the Pope after Communion.
The families represented Oceania, Asia, Africa, South America and Europe – and Syria.
That family was flown in, at great care and difficulty, to the conference and was then returned safely to Syria.
“At a press conference the family was asked for their advice to other Syrians, the family said please come back (to Syria) because if we leave – they’ll take over,” said Thomas.
His Holiness presented each family with the Gospel of St Luke, an especially pertinent gesture for the upcoming Year of Mercy as Luke’s Gospel demonstrates God’s mercy through ‘the prodigal son’ and other parables.
(The Jubilee Year of Mercy begins on 8 December this year and since 1300 the Church has held a jubilee year either every 25 or 50 years since then).
When asked what the conference meant to the family, Tina said it reminded them that family and marriage were a vocation.
“Tina came back with a real fervour for working with married couples again,” said Thomas, who with Tina runs their parish baptismal program.
“There’s a real need to support families and marriages on a day to day basis and on a practical level,” said Tina.
“People asked me if I was nervous meeting the Pope. Nerves were the last of my concern because he’s such a wonderful, humble, Jesus-like man, there’s no room for nerves,” she said.
While the Family Forum was taking place the children went to a separate Youth Congress and teenagers had their own Kids Café.
Christian, aged 9, said the experience of going to the conference made him feel “renewed”.
“I think that I’ve been a bit more nice to my family and I just feel better… I have another chance, I think every time I do something – I do it more like a Christian,” he said.
What did the Pope say to them?
“He said, ‘pray for me’,” said six-year-old Gabrielle, with a smile.