Friday, November 15, 2019 - Updated: 3:40 pm
For Anna Mae Caracciolo, the opportunity to be with more than 800 women who are alive in their faith was a “fantastic” experience. The day reinforced the importance of loving and trusting in God, and it tied together much of the instruction she has learned about the Catholic faith.
“It put everything into perspective,” she said of the Catholic Women’s Fellowship Conference 2019. “It just means so much more. It’s amazing.”
The conference, held Nov. 9 at North Catholic High School in Cranberry Township, followed the theme of “Unshakeable.” It was based on Psalms 62:6: “Truly he is my rock and my salvation: he is my fortress. I will not be shaken.”
Father Joseph Freedy, addressing the gathering and its theme, said, “A tree that is unshaken has deep roots. We have been claimed by Jesus Christ for the Father. You belong to nobody else, ladies.”
The schedule included praise and worship music, talks, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a liturgy celebrated by retired Auxiliary Bishop William Winter. The sacrament of reconciliation was offered throughout the day.
Emcee Kate Hoover asked the women what separated them from the love of God. Everyone is called to be saints, she said. All are called to have an unshakeable faith. Do we live like that, or do we let burdens dictate our faith?
“Keeping that faith and changing lives,” she said. “That’s what we’re called to do.”
Best-selling author and SiriusXM radio host Hallie Lord spoke of how faith can be shaken by external and internal struggles, and how courage can be found in the path God sets for us.
At the core, she noted, every desire we have comes from God. Through discernment, Lord said, we go to God and unpack those desires. When we move closer to God, he reveals what he wants us to do with our lives.
But we can only discern, Lord added, if we talk to God and come to know his voice. People must find a sense of silence in their lives to hear it. “Become the crazy person who talks to God all the time,” she said.
Lord said that a defining moment for her came when she realized that God was telling her that he was “sucking the death out of you and into you pouring my life.”
We should not be consumed with anxiety because of what might happen, she said. Lord recalled film director Alfred Hitchcock’s memorable quote: “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
Lord told the women that they must stay rooted in the moment and accept the grace that God gives them that day. Fear and love cannot coexist, she said, so by pouring God’s love in they push fear out. Lord noted the importance of bringing fears into the light and not burying them.
“God will rather you leap and fall than never do anything again,” she said.
But Lord added that, even in failing, they can be transformed and drawn closer to God.
Author and speaker Emily Stimpson Chapman spoke of how the church has a rich history of women saints. She described how two of them — Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen — are still a source of inspiration and strength today. Their stories unfolded, she noted, in a church that was in turmoil and scandal, much like today.
“Seeing how they perceive holiness when the world is falling apart, and how holiness is actually the antidote to that chaos and corruption,” she said. By following their path, Stimpson Chapman said, we can help reverse the problems in the church. Only through holiness can the church become better, she added.
The message of the conference, she noted, was that people must cling to Jesus. “If you cling to Jesus, he will make you unshakeable,” Stimpson Chapman said. “You have to plant your roots in Calvary and stay with him there, and the devil can’t get you.”
John Beaulieu, director of evangelization and engagement at Franciscan University of Steubenville, spoke of the presence of God in the midst of pain and suffering. He related how people can remain faithful when the world seems to be falling apart. Describing his own trials, he noted how the Holy Spirit can take circumstances and produce endurance, which builds character.
“Blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord,” Beaulieu said. “Jesus Christ is trustworthy with anything life throws at us.”
He added that while he often sees a church that has lost hope, people can be unshakeable if they take Christ’s yoke upon them.
“Do not doubt that you are loved,” he said. “Do not doubt that no matter where you are, Christ can come and find you.”
While humans are in a constant battle against sin and evil, Father Freedy said, we must remember that Christ is already victorious.
When things get tough, he noted, we often forget what we have been taught in the faith and we panic. “The devil pounces like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” he said.
When we panic, Father Freedy said, we take our eyes off Jesus and we run and hide in the busy-ness of our lives. We can’t handle the feeling of vulnerability.
People must reclaim the fact that they are children of God if they are to overcome their fears. He led the gathering in a prayer to overcome fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, despair, victimhood, discouragement, hopelessness, self-pity, self-hatred and unforgiveness.
Concelebrating the liturgy with Bishop Winter was Father Adam Potter, who delivered the homily. He said that everyone would be saints if they knew how much God really loves them. They would take his love and “soar.” The conference, Father Potter noted, highlighted the importance of turning away from the lies that drive people away from God. It doesn’t matter what we do if we forget who we are and take our eyes off Christ, he said.
“Women, we need you to be these witnesses,” Father Potter said. “You offer to the world that there can be no life without sacrifice.”
Megan Ostronic, a member of the conference team, said the theme of the gathering reinforced the message that Christ is always beside his people, even when they face their crosses.
“We’re called to be courageous and stand firm in our faith,” she said. “This message is just the perfect time to bring it out with everything that is going on with the world today.” She added that, in learning about Jesus and knowing that he loves them, the women are supported in their call to go out into the world and show Christ to others.
The mission of Catholic Women’s Fellowship of Pittsburgh is to “gather, equip and unleash women to live boldly as disciples of Jesus Christ and his church.”
Upcoming events include a Lenten retreat, conference and pop-up retreats around the Pittsburgh area. There are several spots open on the CWF team. Those interested in joining may apply by e-mailing email@example.com. CWF can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@cwfpitt). Information also can be found at www.cwfpitt.org.