Preparing for the Pope’s Arrival

Mary Beth Yount, a Neumann University professor and director of content and programming for the World Meeting of Families, will play an integral role in Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia next month.

Mary Beth Yount doesn’t offer a guarantee that she’ll spend any time with Pope Francis during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next month. “The Holy Father’s schedule hasn’t been publicly released,” she says, but her smile says it all.

Yount has spent more than a year preparing for the week-long event, taking a leave from her position as an assistant professor of theology at Neumann University to do so. Director of content and programming for the World Meeting, Yount has planned a week packed with seminars and speeches by church leaders from around the world. Thousands will attend the World Meeting, and at least a million are expected for the pope’s Mass. 

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Yount’s journey to the World Meeting began with “Created for Joy,” the first chapter in Love Is Our Mission, a preparatory catechesis about marriage, family and faith that will be released as a book this fall. The official Church document forms an outline for the content at the World Meeting.

Anyone expecting the Pope Francis-led Church to espouse a liberal approach to marriage and family will be disappointed. One World Meeting seminar, “Always Consider the Family: Homosexuality in the Family,” will be hosted by a man who is gay but celibate. 

Another is titled “Redefining Marriage: Is It Really Whatever We Say It Is?” And “The Heartbreak of Infertility” will outline church-approved fertility treatments. 

Though many believe Pope Francis is bringing true change to the church, Yount has her own perspective. “I don’t see what’s so revolutionary about the Holy Father’s statements,” she says. “He says the church is about love and that we should all love one another. Doesn’t everyone know that our religion is about love and community?”

While finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Yount developed a strong connection with the Sisters of Divine Providence. “Their focus was doing God’s work in the world and radically trusting that he would show them the way,” Yount says. “It was a different way of thinking for me, and it deeply resonated.” 

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She spent more than two years with the nuns while she worked on her master’s degree at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. Eventually, Yount realized that being a nun wasn’t her calling, then made a different lifelong commitment: marriage. Her husband, James, had been in the process of becoming a priest.

They had three children. Then, as Yount was working on her Ph.D. in theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, James was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune syndrome. At one point, he was told he had three years to live. 

Then Yount became pregnant with their fourth child, and James went into an unlikely remission. “My husband thinks that God realized we’d need James’ help with that fourth baby, and that’s why he lived,” she says. “It’s all mysterious, but I do believe that God guided us through it.” 

There’s nothing simple about God or Catholicism, Yount says. She has spent her adult life studying Catholic theology and plans on many more years thinking, writing about and debating its intricacies. That’s one purpose of the World Meeting, and she looks forward to stimulating conversations with other theology wonks.

But as Yount’s story makes clear, the pope’s visit is only one part of the World Meeting and only part of her Catholicism. At the core of her faith is a personal relationship. And if she does get to speak with Pope Francis, she might tell him just that.

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PAPAL ANTICIPATION: Mary Beth Yount is looking forward to a possible meeting with the pope. //photo by tessa marie images

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