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Regular travel between Rome and remote center

Special Report Writer
Bloomingdale, Ohio

In one month this summer three curia cardinals, a few Vatican officials and a number of U.S. bishops and clergy made their way to this campground, home to Catholic Familyland.

So many prelates have arrived, in fact, that one visitor suspected the angels had established an air link between the Aventine hills and the Alleghenies (see main story).

Among the visitors were Cardinals Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue; Jose Sanchez, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy; Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family; Archbishop John Foley of Philadelphia, now president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; and Msgr. Peter Elliott, secretary for the Pontifical Council for the Family.

There were bishops aplenty too -- James McHugh of Camden, N.J., a consultor on the Pontifical Council for the Family and a member of the U.S. Bishops' Pro-Life Committee; Gilbert Sheldon of Steubenville, Ohio; Joseph Madera of the U.S. military vicariate; Juan Fremiot Torres Oliver of Ponce, Puerto Rico; and Jose de Jesus Martinez Zepeda of Mexico City.

In addition, more than a dozen cardinals have endorsed the Apostolate for Family Consecration, which runs Catholic Familyland, or have contributed to its catechism and its state-of-the-art evangelizing materials.

The late Mother Teresa was the apostolate's top champion. She met founder Jerome Coniker in 1976 when the apostolate was in its infancy. Taking Coniker aside while he was in a reception line, she encouraged his campaign to consecrate families to Christ through Mary in union with St. Joseph.

Today the apostolate has an eight-tape series of conversations with the nun, recorded in Kenosha, Wis., Washington and Rome. Segments of her teachings are on all 72 "Holy Hour" videos produced by the apostolate. Recently, when the apostolate offered -- via cable television -- a free book by Coniker on Mother Teresa, Spiritual Seeds, more than 1,000 persons dialed its 40-line, 1-800-FOR-MARY number in the first 24 hours.

In recent months the apostolate has enhanced its outreach to Hispanic Catholics, offering more books, tapes and videos in Spanish and inaugurating its first bilingual conference in mid-August.

During that conference, Lopez-Trujillo challenged families to communicate the Good News in a way that is "effervescent, like beer, sparkling like spumante or champagne." The cardinal urged families to organize politically against same-sex unions and to confront legislators on issues of abortion, partial-birth abortion and the destruction of embryos.

Both the cardinal and his secretary, Msgr. Peter Elliott of Australia, refused NCR's requests for interviews.

Earlier this year the cardinal told a Rome conference that fear of parenthood was greatly curbing population growth in a number of lands.

"The world's populations, like the Titanic, are slowly navigating toward the iceberg of demographic winter, out of fear of maternity and paternity," he said at an April 4 gathering. He pointed to Brazil, where he said there are 160 million Brazilians today, whereas there ought to be 210 million according to some estimates.

"It did not happen that way, because 40 percent of Brazilian women of a fertile age have been sterilized. And this has prevented the births of 50 million new human beings," he said. At Catholic Familyland Lopez Trujillo indicated that the Pontifical Council for the Family will take up issues of population and the environment when it convenes its Oct. 3-5 World Gathering of Families in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pope John Paul II will say an outdoor Mass at the conference Oct. 5.

Elliott, in a speech before Hispanic families here, outlined the teaching role of parents, whose deeds, he said, often serve as "implicit, silent catechesis."

While parents should avoid "overkill" with teenagers on matters of faith and morals, they should invite, encourage and explain to them -- never forcing or bribing them into the confessional, Elliott said.

But he also warned parents not to exaggerate a child's innocence. "There's little to be gained from a catechesis that is strong on self-affirmation" but "weak on moral truths, the commandments and sin." Such an approach "will only produce those spoiled, selfish brats who are a blight on our society whether the brat is 5, 15 or 50 years old."

While parents listened to the cardinal and his secretary, their children learned to pray the rosary. The youngsters also gathered near a campfire watching a dramatized version of the Passion by actor Doug Barry.

During their stay, kids frolicked in the St. John Bosco Pool and slid down the 200-foot-long St. Denis Water Slide.

During youth religious programs, teachers divided young people by age: "Saints Under Construction," ages 4-9; "Totally Yours Youth," named after the apostolate's motto "totus tuus," ages 10-12; and "Destiny Generation" for those 13 and older.

In tents, classrooms, on the grass or in the chapel, kids heard about guardian angels, saints, sin and God's mercy and were continuously urged to go to confession.

National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 1997