by Marie Elena Giossi
As prime agents of the new evangelization, women need and thirst for encouragement, enrichment and affirmation in their faith lives.
For that reason, nearly 450 women from Brooklyn and Queens accepted the call to attend Women of Faith, a special bilingual conference for women sponsored by the Brooklyn Diocese in observance of the Year of Faith.
The day-long event was held at the Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston, March 9.
“We’re here to celebrate your life of witness, generosity and faithfulness in our diocese,” Auxiliary Bishop Frank Caggiano said in his welcoming address.
Recognizing that the women present “mirror the Lord Jesus” in countless ways, he said the diocese was proud to sponsor the day.
“My sisters, you are one of the prime agents of the new evangelization,” he said. “If we are going to change the world and spread the faith, we need you.”
On Fire with Faith
He expressed his hope that participants would benefit from the opportunity to “celebrate each other, to celebrate our Lord” and leave “more on fire” with the faith.
Conference organizers, Annmarie McLaughlin and Cruz-Teresa Rosero, led the morning prayers.
Both lay volunteers, McLaughlin is a parishioner of Sacred Heart, Bayside, and Rosero is a member of the Hispanic Committee of the National Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
Assisting them were Sister Angela Gannon, C.S.J., diocesan secretary for Catholic education and formation; Barbara McArdle, assistant superintendent in the diocesan Catholic School Support Services Office; and Sonia Casanova, religious education director at St. Sebastian, Woodside.
McLaughlin said she hoped the day would inspire women to reflect on “what it means to be Catholic and a woman of faith.”
Women, she noted, are great multi-taskers, caring for their families, including children and aging parents; working outside the home; and serving in their parishes. Yet, they often do not realize how much they are contributing to the world around them.
“I hope the women will have a sense of being little lights in their families and parishes,” she said.
Following morning prayers, women separated into English and Spanish tracks. Dr. JoAnn Heaney-Hunter, associate professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica, gave the keynote address in English, while Elisa Montalvo, Hispanic achievement specialist in the Howard County Public School System, Columbia, Md., offered the keynote in Spanish.
Returning to the roots of the Catholic faith in her talk, Dr. Heaney-Hunter examined the lives of notable biblical women of faith, who, she said, “give us clear hints as to how to live each day.”
She touched upon the attributes of fidelity, prayerfulness and courage as displayed in the Old Testament by Ruth, Hannah and Queen Esther, respectively.
In the New Testament, she pointed to Priscilla, a teacher of the Good News, and Phoebe, a minister in the early Church.
“These stories,” Dr. Heaney-Hunter said, “are our stories, stories of courageous women who do what they have to do to make the lives of those around them better.”
“Women of faith,” she said, “are women who are called to serve. We have been called by God to a vocation of faith.”
Expounding on her theme, Dr. Heaney-Hunter said “women are programmed to be servers. … Somewhere along the way, we got the mistaken notion that being good to ourselves is being selfish.”
“We don’t have to go and give 24 hours a day,” she said. “Even Jesus took time for Himself, and we have to remember that.”
Following the keynote, women attended workshops on nurturing their faith, using the Blessed Mother as a role model, and the challenge of passing on the faith. Presenters included Dr. Heaney-Hunter, Montalvo, Maricela Quintana and Dr. Marilyn Martone.
Participants also had the opportunity to go to confession, pray the rosary and celebrate Mass with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
The overwhelming number of women brought a smile to Bishop DiMarzio, particularly because a similar conference for men had been cancelled due to low registration.
Explaining to the participants why a day had been set aside just for their spiritual needs, he said, “I think it’s because of the uniqueness of women’s spirituality that you deserve special attention.”
“The faith of women carries so much weight in the Church,” he noted.
Looking to the Scriptures, he spoke about the unique role of the Blessed Mother, who gave herself completely to God’s will, and various women in Jesus’ life who were witnesses to His miracles, guardians of His message and heralds of His resurrection.
The Church throughout the ages has benefited from the “fruits of feminine holiness,” he said, pointing to the modern examples of Dorothy Day and St. Gianna Beretta Molla.
Acknowledging the role of women in the new evangelization, he exhorted attendees to keep on living and practicing their faith.
“Live it. Practice it. It makes all the difference in the world and the Church,” he said.
Lise Marc, a parishioner from St. Gerard Majella, Hollis, is one of those women making a difference. She started and leads a eucharistic adoration group at her parish. She also ministers to young Haitian women.
“This has been a great experience,” Marc said of the day.
She appreciated the “genuine teachings on faith, daily life, suffering and care giving. It has inspired me as a woman and a disciple.”
Likewise, Jocelyn Rodriguez, a young adult from St. Elizabeth parish, Ozone Park, who has been active in the Jovenes de Valor youth ministry, said she was “taking away a lot of encouragement and hope from today.”
Augusta Van Duzen, president of the local chapter of the National Council of Catholic Women, was proud to bring nearly 100 women from nine diocesan parishes to the event.
The council was scheduled to have its own conference on the same day, but Van Duzen said members felt it was more important to be part of the diocesan gathering.
Carmen Rodriguez, a young adult from St. Michael Church, East New York, who participated in the conference’s Spanish track, said she felt “renewed” as the day came to a close.
“After He renews us, we have to go out and be light for other people,” she said. She planned to share what she had learned with members of her parish’s Las Magdalenas ministry.
Organizers say they hope to make the conference an annual or biennial event.