By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 27, 2011
Women from around North and Middle Georgia came together at the 55th annual convention of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (AACCW) and learned about a diverse group of topics, including awareness of child sexual abuse, speaking to legislators, medical help for people in South Africa, and effective leadership skills.
The convention was held at the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center in Peachtree City Sept. 9-11. This year’s theme was “I have called you by name” from Isaiah 43:1. Over 150 attended the convention.
Shirley Towle, immediate past president of AACCW, said, “Throughout this event we provide programs in leadership, spirituality and service. …We encourage all these women to take full advantage of this opportunity to grow… to embrace the liturgies, workshops, lectures, spiritual time, fellowship, and social time of this convention. This is a time for us and for each other to participate as sisters of faith. We must fully realize the positive differences we make and value of service to others and especially to our God.”
Following the Saturday morning Mass were the main events of the convention: a business meeting, luncheon speaker and workshops.
At the business meeting new officers were elected, then installed at the Sunday Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. The new officers are: Dana Lee Willis, president, Christ Our Hope Church, Lithonia; Deanne Holmer, president-elect, St. Mary Church, Toccoa; Cindy Sencindiver, recording secretary, Sacred Heart Church, Milledgeville; and Gwendolyn Scott, treasurer, St. Pius X Church, Conyers.
The luncheon and main speaker was Patsy Kang, of St. Gabriel’s Church, Fayetteville, treasurer of the women’s council, member of the parish finance council, and a prayer group member of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. She spoke on the convention’s theme in a personal way.
“I was raised in a very strict Catholic home,” Kang said. “My friends, most of my neighborhood, and extended family members were Catholic. I never thought about being Catholic. I just was.”
She said that in college she had drifted away from going to Mass. After graduation she moved to California and met her future husband who was not Catholic.
Over the years, Kang said she was “one of those Catholics who attended Mass on Ash Wednesday, Easter, Christmas and Good Friday services. We never explained much to our children and never gave them a religious upbringing.”
Kang said that her son started going to Mass while attending Emory University and later attended Christ the King Cathedral, joined RCIA and became Catholic.
She said that soon afterwards they started going to Mass together. “He introduced me to the Divine Mercy Chaplet. … That’s when he planted the seed for me, and my journey began.”
She wanted to have her marriage blessed by the church so she could receive Communion, but her husband would not agree to it. Her children talked to their father and explained how important being Catholic and being able to participate fully in her religion was for their mother. Their father agreed and had their marriage blessed.
“The next morning I went to Mass,” Kang said emotionally. “I was truly grateful it was a weekday Mass. As soon as Father lifted the host and then the cup, the tears started to flow. I truly felt blessed and felt as though the Holy Spirit was with me. I had never felt this before. What a wonderful feeling.”
“I want to encourage all of you to be so thankful and proud of our religion,” she said. “Be grateful for the honor that we have in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. Never take that for granted and don’t be afraid of inviting someone to Mass or praying with them. You never know when you might be planting a seed of hope in someone.”
The morning workshop dealt with child sexual abuse, especially on the Internet, recognizing the dangers of predators and pornography, and the steps parents can take to protect their children.
The presenter, Angela Williams, a survivor of incest by her stepfather, is a child advocate and founder of VOICE Today, a nonprofit organization involved in breaking the silence of child sexual abuse through awareness, prevention and healing programs.
“This abuse murders the innocence of a child,” Williams said. “It traumatizes the child. Yet our society still has its head buried in the sand. It crosses every single barrier.”
She said that most people do not believe abuse happens in their home, neighborhood, church, school or even on the Internet. They believe it happens somewhere else.”
“Ninety percent of children are abused by someone they know and trust,” Williams said.
Williams said that the Internet is not just on computers but also on cellphones and smart phones, video games where children can talk to other game players whom they don’t know.
She said that children give out too much information about themselves online, and this is what predators are looking for to lure children away from home and to meet with them.
“The average age of a child exposed to pornography is 11 years old,” Williams said. “Ninety percent of eight- to 16-year-olds have viewed pornography, accidentally, online, most while doing their homework. If you misspell Facebook, it will take you to a triple X porn site. No one is monitoring the Internet. In the United States there are no laws governing the web and pornography on the web. It is a difficult crime to prove.”
She said that the signs of sexual abuse are usually seen in changes in normal behavior, such as being withdrawn, depression, acting out, hiding something, or even wetting the bed.
“Children need instruction and guidelines. They need rules. They need someone to tell them no. We can set limits,” Williams said.
“You parents are the purest source of information for your child,” she said. “We cannot miss the chance to answer their questions openly and honestly. We have to protect our children. This evil is getting worse, not better.”
“We don’t carry one party over the other. We don’t change our message because it’s not popular,” Mulcahy said. “The most basic message of Catholic moral teaching is that God has created human beings all equal and that human beings have been saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
He said that the Catholic faith gives Catholics an important platform from which to speak and when the church speaks on social issues, it speaks from the experience of actually providing these services to many people.
“Why should you, as Catholic women, be talking to legislators?” said Mulcahy. “Because you need to be telling them that there are people out there like us who want to see people, all people, treated as human beings and to get rid of structures and systems in our society which hurt rather than help.”
He said that the most important thing to do is to change the climate of the discussion, to change sound bites into thoughtful discussion. He used the immigration situation as an example. He said that people get into legal and illegal mind frames. “We need to frame this discussion to look for a solution to the reality we have created for ourselves. We’ve created this immigration problem. It is important that we treat (the immigrants) as people.”
Mulcahy said it is important to write and visit legislators and treat them with respect, be honest and accurate when stating the issues, be concise and to the point, mention the bill, be passionate about the issue and mention a personal experience with it. He also said that whether or not the politician supports the issue, always be civil to him or her.
“The church cannot support or oppose any politician for office,” Mulcahy said. “But you and I as individual Catholics certainly can. It’s important we speak on the issues.” And very important to follow up to be sure the politicians vote their talk.
Dr. Sharon Harley, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, presented the second part of the workshop on her missionary work. She has 25 years of private practice in obstetrics and gynecology and is founder of the Harley Anti-Aging Institute, which specializes in preventive health to decrease age-related diseases. She has participated in several mission trips to South Africa to help with healthcare needs in the rural areas.
“After several years in gynecology, I have transitioned into medical mission medicine,” Harley said. “A nonprofit organization called Zenzele, a Zulu word meaning ‘do it for yourself,’ took me to South Africa, with a population of more than 42 million people where 73 percent are women and children. A significant proportion has inadequate access to basic services, including healthcare, clean water and basic sanitation.”
Harley said that the organization is involved in several programs working with the healthcare systems in the private and public sectors and the local and national provincials. The programs provide healthcare education, research on HIV/AIDS, especially for children, and work with the hospital physicians and staff to help deliver healthcare to the rural areas.
“Serving in a clinic,” she said, “I saw an alarming rate of TB; infant and maternal mortality; HIV; cervical, prostate, esophageal, and colon cancers.”
Harley said that she noticed a red ink mark on the patients’ charts. “In my ignorance, I thought, OK, these are women being treated for HIV. To my alarm, 98 percent of these patients were actually HIV positive.”
“Our challenge is to reduce South Africans’ disparities in heathcare and deliveries,” she said, “while increasing access to the whole, integrated, healthcare services. That is our long-term plan, and it’s based upon the belief that physicians can and should play a critical role in solving and improving the healthcare ills in the communities where they belong. We would like to expand this to the Caribbean.”
Harley said that it was a blessing to get up at three or four in the morning to travel to the rural areas, where the need was critical.
“The patients were not speaking the language that I spoke,” she said. “They would look into your eyes and that look, when you connected, you could read every word that patient would say. Essentially that look told me, ‘Doctor, you’re here. I’m in your hands. Please take good care of me.’ I got that. It was very empowering and very moving.”
Following the afternoon workshop was a leadership workshop where the women learned the main steps to being successful leaders and the tools needed to run their meetings and how to bring awareness of the women’s council activities to their parishes.
“The convention was well organized,” said Scott, AACCW’s newly installed treasurer.
She added, “AACCW is important since there’s a need to meet with other people, to find out new ideas and share thoughts, be a sister in faith.”