By Susan Klemond | Catholic News Service
MINNEAPOLIS (CNS) — Christ the good shepherd delights in finding those who are lost, but he also may call the faithful to be shepherds to help others find their way, Liz Kelly Stanchina said Nov. 3.
The retreat leader, speaker and author made the remarks in addressing nearly 500 people in Minneapolis at the opening session of the National Council of Catholic Women’s convention, which had as its theme “Wide Open Hearts: Abiding in Faith, Hope and Love.”
“I think we all think of the good shepherd passage as Jesus coming to save us. Of course, he does, but I do wonder how often he asks us to go in search of the lost in his place,” Kelly Stanchina said, referring to the day’s Gospel reading from Chapter 15 of Luke.
Offering stories of two women as virtuous examples of responding to God’s call, both as shepherd and lost sheep, Kelly Stanchina, who also is a columnist for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, encouraged those gathered to pray for the grace to make the virtues of faith, hope and love visible in their lives.
Attendees, including some priests, gathered at the Nov. 2-5 event for prayer, liturgies, presentations, decision-making and socializing.
At the opening Mass, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis encouraged the congregation to use their gifts to help priests and bishops find the lost sheep — including Catholics who haven’t returned to their parishes since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really only when we’re able to demonstrate a deep charity that we can ever have the hope of attracting people back to our church, and you my sisters, do that in spades,” Archbishop Hebda said in his homily, thanking the women for their commitment to faith and service. “We’re so grateful for the ways in which you demonstrate charitable concern for our sisters and brothers.”
About 15 priests and several bishops concelebrated with the archbishop. Later in the convention, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Williams of St. Paul and Minneapolis and William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, NCCW’s episcopal liaison, also presided at Masses.
The NCCW’s charitable concern and commitment to service was clear in other presentations during the convention’s opening day from several national and international organizations that the council partners with to serve the poor and vulnerable.
These groups included Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ oversees relief and development agency, and Cross Catholic Outreach, a Florida-based global relief and development ministry.
Founded in 1920, the NCCW is a nonprofit organization that seeks to respond to church and societal needs. With thousands of members nationwide, the council works to support, empower and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service.
The 489 convention-goers, many of them 50 or older, hailed from a majority of states and dioceses in the U.S., and included more than 100 representatives from Minnesota. The Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women hosted the conference. The ACCW has more than 2,000 members and 89 affiliated parish councils in the archdiocese, its website says.
This year’s event was the fifth NCCW annual or biennial convention held in the Twin Cities since the organization was founded.
Andrea Cowell, 72, of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, said it was a “real joy” to be part of the group of Catholic women. “When you think of all the people here, we’re all from different backgrounds. They’re all faith-filled Catholic women. It’s inspiring, really.”
What women learn at the convention they bring back to their parishes, said Carol Shukle, 70, of Our Lady of the Lake in Mound, Minnesota, and past ACCW president.
“It’s always a wonderful experience to come to the convention and (hear) the speakers,” she told The Catholic Spirit. “It’s always kind of uplifting and rejuvenating.”
The convention’s theme was inspired by Pope Francis’ teaching on hope in his 2020 encyclical letter, “Fratelli Tutti,” and on St. Paul’s writing on love in Chapter 13 of his First Letter to the Corinthians, said NCCW President Patricia Voorhes of Salt Lake City.
In her opening statement to the convention, Voorhes encouraged women to “celebrate the many ways you respond with Gospel values to the needs of the Church and society, and go forward from this convention with open hearts, ready to try new things to brighten and enliven your councils.”
Voorhes later commented, “People need to know what good works these women do in every single diocese. They are phenomenal … I am so proud to be their president.”
Organizers draped the convention stage with colors to inspire reflections on spirituality, leadership and service, along with ways to strengthen and empower other Catholic women, the church and society, said Beth Mahoney, of Taunton, Massachusetts, NCCW president-elect.
Talks throughout the weekend focused on one of the theological virtues that inspired the convention theme.
Kelly Stanchina’s presentation emphasized love, and Sister Xavier Mariette Ezeokoli, of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ, described her ministry of service at Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis in a talk focused on hope for the homeless.
As part of a panel discussion titled “Discover your Fiat,” Minnesota women Therese Coons, Kristin Molitor and Susan Stabile shared their faith stories.
On the final day of the convention, Yen Fasano, associate director of the Drexel Mission Schools Initiative of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, tied the virtues together and sent the participants out on mission.
In a business session, attendees approved a resolution to encourage and promote praying the rosary daily and to promote the First Saturday devotion of the rosary, Mass and confession requested by Our Lady of Fatima.
Those attending the convention brought boxes and boxes of hygiene items for Sharing and Caring Hands, a ministry in Minneapolis that serves the homeless, including families.
Mary Jo Copeland, who founded the ministry, has been a longtime supporter of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, and ACCW parish councils have supported her work, said Kathy Zweber, a member of St. Piux X in White Bear Lake, and convention volunteer coordinator.
“Mary Jo has provided education for our councils to understand the needs of the women and children,” Zweber said. “Part of our mission statement is service, leadership and development.”