Love is Our Mission – World Meeting of Families and the Papal Visit #WMF2015

world-meeting-of-families-philadelphia-2015-logoThe World Meeting of Families was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am grateful to have been a part of it. I was there as an exhibitor, but I also attended some of the keynote presentations as well as the daily Masses. Over 20,000 attended the huge event in Philadelphia, which ended with the Festival of Families on Saturday and the Papal Mass on Sunday. Worshipping, interacting and networking with fellow Catholics was edifying and inspiring. I made many new friends and connected with old ones!

High points:

Papal Mass
We got up early and were fortunate to be in the first section behind the seats. Security was tight on both the train and at the security checkpoints in Philly (they even carefully checked the religious sisters behind us). It was the first time I ever saw the Ben Franklin Bridge with no cars on it! IMG_1288

This wasn’t my first Papal Mass. My family and I attended the World Youth Day Mass with John Paul II in 2002 in Toronto. Attending an outside Mass with nearly a million others is wonderfully exhilarating!

This year, we had a pretty good view of the altar (until they put a tent up! Evidently, the organizers thought it might rain so they put a tent over the instruments…they also didn’t realize it would obstruct the crowd’s view of the altar. Thankfully, after the crowd chanted “Move that tent” loudly several times, they eventually took the tent down!)

photo copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

photo copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

My husband got this wonderful photo of Pope Francis in his Popemobile.

copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

Meeting (or seeing again):

Christopher West

Christopher West, author and speaker (Theology of the Body Explained, Good News About Sex and Marriage)

Jason Evert, popular chastity speaker (who also recorded a message for my 26 year old son!)

Jason Evert, popular author and chastity speaker,  (who also recorded a message for my 26 year old son!)

With Dr. Janet Smith! Years ago, I gave her copies of Emily's Hope and In Name Only. This year, I gave her a copy of Stealing Jenny, as well as four other FQP books!

With Dr. Janet Smith, author and speaker. Years ago, I gave her copies of my first two novels, Emily’s Hope and In Name Only. This year, I gave her a copy of Stealing Jenny, as well as four other FQP books!

Our diocese’s former bishop, Archbishop Richard Smith (third from left, back row), was sitting behind our group at Mass on Friday!
IMG_1253

So many priests and religious on fire for their faith!

With Sisters of Jesus Our Hope!

With Sisters of Jesus Our Hope!

Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of them was Sr. Ellen (from Ottawa!)

I gave Sr. Ellen a copy of Emily's Hope for her and all the sisters!

I gave Sr. Ellen a copy of Emily’s Hope for her and all the sisters!

Catholics from all over the world!
We met this wonderful priest and another man from Nigeria!IMG_1158

A fellow CCL teaching couple from India!

Valy and Anna Coelho from India

Valy and Anna Coelho from India

Courage International Team
(I’ve talked to the wonderful team of Courage International over the phone several times but have never met any of them!)

With the wonderful team at Courage International

With the wonderful team at Courage International

I loved when attendees came up to my husband to tell him they recognize him from his cartoon!

Cartoon copyright James & Ellen Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing. Please do NOT use without permission

Cartoon copyright James & Ellen Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing. Please do NOT use without permission

I met four adult women shorter than me and one adult man!
(Sorry, no photos. You’ll have to take my word for it!)

I loved seeing so many people I already know!

With our friend, Michel McDonald (whose courtship story was included in Come My Beloved!)

With our friend, Michel McDonald (whose courtship story was included in Come My Beloved!)

With Brother Joshua, an author and fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild

With Brother Joshua, an author and fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild

Each Daily Mass was trilingual:
English, Spanish and Vietnamese. With the Mass booklet, I could actually follow along in other languages.Mass booklet

I enjoyed attending Mass with 17,000 fellow CatholicsIMG_1183

Catholic Writers Guild Booth
I was at the World Meeting of Families representing the Catholic Writers Guild. I spoke to many people who were either interested in writing or knew other Catholic writers who might want to join. I gave away many brochures, booklets and business cards and I think CWG gained nearly 20 members!IMG_1152

Cool architecture and artwork! IMG_1199

copyright 2015 James Hrkach, please do not use without permission

copyright 2015 James Hrkach, please do not use without permission

Low Points

Early Shutdown of the Exhibitor Hall
Although the exhibitor hall was scheduled to be opened until one p.m. on Friday, we were informed at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon that we would need to shut our booth down by 6:00 p.m. and that the exhibitor hall would be closed on Friday because of “security concerns.” We wound up spending the last hour trying to give away books and taking down our booth. Since we had taken the Speedline in the morning, we had no car available. My husband and I are especially thankful to friends from our diocese for helping carry all the stands and books ten blocks to the Speedline! (Thank you, Dan, Kelsey, Grace, Chris, Yvette and Irene!) Also thanks to my sister, Laurie, and her friend, George, for helping carry items. We would never have been able to take down the booth and get the materials back to my sister’s place without everyone’s assistance!

Unfortunately, because of this early shut down, many of the attendees didn’t have an opportunity to browse the exhibitor hall. (I myself was waiting until Friday to purchase tee shirts and other items for Christmas gifts.) Many exhibitors lost money because of the early closure.

Narrow hallways
One of the main exits from the large conference room used for Mass and keynote presentations exited into a very narrow hallway. 15,000 people trying to squeeze into this narrow hallway was challenging at best. After Mass and keynotes, it often took half an hour just to exit. Anyone with claustrophobia must’ve had a difficult time.

Demonstrators
I was told that a few FEMEN demonstrators tried to draw attention to themselves in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center on one of the days (but I didn’t see them). As well, another attendee told me that several same sex couples attended one of the breakout sessions on Marriage and confronted the speakers.

Schedule
There was too much packed into three and a half days. It began with Mass at 8:30 a.m., one or two keynote presentations and many, many breakout sessions, and ended at 6:00 p.m. We were commuting back and forth from New Jersey via the PATCO Speedline so that made the schedule a bit more challenging. (Although I must commend the PATCO people during the weekend of the Papal visit. Trains were frequent and PATCO employees were very courteous and helpful!

Disneyland Atmosphere
There was a bit of a Disneyland Atmosphere even at Mass, although this is understandable given the once-in-a-lifetime event for most of the people attending.

Communion at Papal Mass
While there seemed to be enough priests giving out the Eucharist at the Papal Mass, there was no organized way to receive. The priest came to the fence and immediately hundreds of people descended to that area without forming any lines. It was haphazard at best. A few times, I thought I was going to be crushed. I realize that perhaps they didn’t have enough volunteers to organize the lines for communicants, but this was the only aspect of the Papal Mass that seemed disorganized.

All in all, however, I’m thankful I had the opportunity to attend! Both my husband and I had a wonderful — if not exhausting — time! Check out more photos on my Instagram page.

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach #WMF2015 #popeinphilly #worldmeeting2015

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Four Foot Nine Is the Magic Number

Disney.0Many years ago, James and I were watching the news and the commentator was talking about the new Ministry of Transportation rules here in Canada for children sitting in the front seat. “Children must be four feet nine and over to sit in the front seat.” The commentator went on to inform listeners that anyone who did not comply with the new rules would be slapped with an expensive fine. With new technologies and powerful air bags, it was obvious that the Ministry wanted to protect children. At the time, my height was (and still is) four feet nine inches tall (which I’m told is the average height of a ten year old).

I turned to my husband and said, “How do they expect me to drive from the back seat?” We laughed about it, then I realized, “Uh-oh. Maybe I’m not allowed to drive.” A quick call to the Ministry confirmed that it would not be against the law if I continued to drive, nor would I be given any fine. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Later, there was an ad campaign in the United States (see photo) saying that kids needed to be four feet nine or taller in order to be out of a booster seat. So when I saw this particular photo, I laughed out loud. Of course, I think it’s pretty neat that my height is a magic number.

It isn’t, of course, the magic number when I’m in the grocery store or a department store. Usually, at least once a week, it’s necessary for me to ask a kind tall person to reach something on a high shelf. Other than unreachable groceries, however, I enjoy being short, especially now that I’m older.

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

SQT Friday – Busy Week Ahead

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

It’s been a busy month and is about to get busier!

1. World Meeting of Families
I am heading down to Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families, then I’m planning to attend the Papal Mass on Sunday, September 27. I’ll be mostly in the Exhibit Hall at Booth 747, manning the Catholic Writers Guild Booth. Please pray for a safe trip for us and all the attendees and pilgrims! If you’re attending, stop by and say hello!world-meeting-of-families-philadelphia-2015-logo

2. Stay With Me Kindle Edition Available for Pre-Order
Carolyn Astfalk’s novel, Stay With Me (Kindle Edition) is now available for pre-order. The print and Kindle editions will be available on October 1!
Stay with Me front cover

3. Stay With Me Novel Web Page
And take a look at the updated novel web page.

4. Fast4Francis
I’m participating in Fast4Francis, a fasting novena hosted by Live the Fast. Today is Day One! For more information, click here.
Fast4FrancisLOGOSm

5. Instagram Page
I’m pretty new to Instagram, but if you’re on there, please follow me and I will usually follow back! I will be posting photos from the World Meeting of Families and other Papal activities.

6. Reading/Review/Book Shelf
Fast with the Heart – Fr. Slavko Barbaric
Word by Word: Slowing Down With The Hail Mary (Sarah Reinhard, editor) I contributed a story to this book! Now available for pre-order!

7. Man UP Cartoon

image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach (all rights reserved, please do not use without permission)

image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach (all rights reserved, please do not use without permission)

Skydiving and Letting Go! #TBT

The following is an article originally published in 2010, updated in 2015 and definitely illustrates how hard it is to “let go” when you’re a parent.
Tim skydiving
When my third son, Tim, was a toddler, his favorite book was Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. In the story, the baby bird breaks out of his shell and his mother isn’t anywhere to be found. He journeys on a quest to find his mother, asking a dog, cow and various other animals and inanimate objects the question: “Are you my mother?” Eventually, mother and baby bird are reunited and they live happily ever after.

In the real world, a mother bird knows when it’s time for baby bird to leave the nest. For humans, the gradual letting go of mother and child takes place over many years. It begins the first time Dad takes his newborn son out for a car ride or Grandmom takes the baby for a walk in the stroller. The important thing for most parents is to allow this transition to take place and to not smother our children when it’s time to “let go.”

I have to admit, it’s hard for me to “let go.” Attachment parenting was a natural way to nurture my children and I enjoyed nursing them, carrying them, rocking them and simply being with them. Homeschooling was also a logical progression of this philosophy.

At around age three or so, our sons weaned. At varying ages, they stopped coming into our bed. Homeschooling eventually comes to an end. Part of the “letting go” process also means allowing them to make their own decisions in life.

In 2009, Tim (then 17, now 23) landed a “dream” job at the local parachuting club. A few weeks after he had started, Tim called from the club and calmly explained that his boss had shared with him that one of the perks of his job was free skydiving. So he asked if he could go skydiving, that afternoon – in about two hours, to be precise. I immediately dismissed the request, saying, “Tim, forget it. You’re not jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet.” I had spent the last 17 years of Tim’s life trying to protect him from danger, so why would I stop now?

“But, Mom,” he said, “I’ll have a parachute on and there’ll be an experienced jumper with me.” I hesitated, wanting to shout at him, “Are you crazy? Why would you want to jump out of an airplane?” But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “Couldn’t you just wait until another time?”

“Mom, today there are perfect conditions; it’s clear and there aren’t many tandem jumpers. They said I could do it today. Please.”

My husband, standing nearby, gently reminded me that in six months, our son would turn 18 and he’d be able to do it without our permission. I also thought about the fact that in a few short months, Tim would be old enough to join the armed forces and fight in battle (and possibly jump out of airplanes all the time). I sighed, then said, “We’ll be right there.”

Of course, since he was under 18, we had to sign papers consenting to his jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet, with another skydiver (tandem skydiving). Then we had to watch a video explaining what would be involved. Perhaps if I’d had a week or even a day to rethink the whole thing, I wouldn’t have agreed to it.

The instructor who made the tandem jump with Tim assured me that there were all kinds of backups and safety precautions: extra parachutes, an experienced jumper making the trip down with him, etc. But I was not happy about it. I prayed from the moment he stepped onto the airplane and continued praying. It was the longest — and I mean the longest — 20 minutes of my life. My hands were shaking and I don’t think I actually breathed until he stepped onto the ground.

When he was close to landing, we could hear him screaming. In that first half-second, my motherly instincts kicked in and I panicked. “Is he okay?” I frantically asked my husband, standing nearby. Then I heard loud hearty laughter from Tim, still in the air above us.

He finally landed and the bright and happy expression on his face said it all. He kept saying thank you to the tandem instructor. But what surprised me was when he said, “Thanks, Mom, for letting me do that.”

I nodded, now relieved and happy that he was safe.

He tapped me on the shoulder. “Can I do it again next week?”

updated: copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Catholic Writers Retreat

CatholicWritersRetreatLogo2011iiiiDo you need time away to finish or start a manuscript? Work on that proposal? Organize your writing project? Finish work to meet your editor’s deadline?

On October 25-29, 2015 the Catholic Writers Guild, for the third time, is offering a writers retreat near Lansing, Michigan. I will be there and I’m really looking forward to some uninterrupted writing time!

St. Francis Retreat and Conference Center, 703 E. Main Street, DeWitt, Michigan, is situated on a 93 acre site of woodlands, meadows, and prayer gardens.

$490 includes a private room with a single share bath, three meals a day (and all the coffee you can drink!), internet access, breakout spaces, resource library, three daily presenters, critique sessions, Mass and reconciliation.

The power of the Catholic Writers Guild is why we can keep the cost so low! This retreat, offered every other year, is popular because it is a true writers retreat offering you abundant time to work at writing, and time to critique with other Catholic writers.

You can register on line at http://www.stfrancis.ws/retreats.html, click on the Other Offerings tab. Or call 1-866-669-8321.

Handicap accessible and dietary needs accommodated.

If you fly into Lansing Capital Region International Airport, a shuttle to the retreat house—only seveb minutes away—is provided.

Retreat space is limited so register soon!

End of Summer News

Life has been busy, too busy, with my new job at Live the Fast, helping #4 son get ready for college (five hours away), and Catholic Writers Guild responsibilities. I haven’t had much time for writing or blogging, but hopefully, I will be able to write more fiction now that summer is over! So…what’s new?

1. Fast4Francis
Read more about Fast4Francis here at this link.
Fast4FrancisLOGOSm

2. Thank you, Carolyn!
Special thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for including me in her list of favorite contemporary Catholic authors!

3. Stay With Me
FQP’s new novel, Stay With Me, by Carolyn Astfalk, will be available on October 1st. Watch the trailer:

4. World Meeting of Families
I will be attending the World Meeting of Families down in Philadelphia beginning September 22. I will be an exhibitor for the Catholic Writers Guild at Booth 747. If you’re attending, please stop by and say hello!

I will also be attending the Papal Mass on Sunday in Philly, along with my husband and sister!

5. Review Shelf
The Well by Stephanie Landsem

6. Stepping Down as President for CWG
Last week, I announced that I would be stepping down as president of the Catholic Writers Guild (effective November 30th). Three years as president, five years on the board. I will continue to be an active member, though!

6. Fertile Time Cartoon

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)