By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 11, 2012
“Renew and Rejoice, Your Light Must Shine Before Others … Matthew 5:16” was the theme for the 56th annual convention of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, held at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest at Galleria Sept. 7-9. Attending the convention were 145 women from around the archdiocese.
Father Tim Hepburn, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, spoke at Sunday’s brunch, and Marian Monahan, spiritual director, religious educator and retreat leader, spoke at Saturday’s luncheon; both talked on the convention’s theme.
“This theme you’ve chosen is powerful. It’s actually dangerous,” Father Hepburn said. “It will cost you everything if you really give yourself up to it.”
He said, “Jesus said your light must shine. This is his command. Let the light that God has given us shine.”
Father Hepburn said that too many times people get tired in ministry because they are trying to let their light shine instead of letting God’s light shine.
“The light that Jesus spoke about is a gift, it’s grace,” he said. “You don’t create it. It’s Jesus. We open ourselves to that light in prayer and by faith.”
People have the potential to be turned on by faith that is exercised in prayer and in communion with God, encountering Jesus in a personal and intimate relationship, he said.
“That’s where the light comes from, communion with the Lord in prayer,” Father Hepburn said.
Women at the convention also heard more about service through the work of Catholic Charities Atlanta from three of the agency’s executives: Anno Hardage, chief development and marketing officer, Stephanie Ungashick, senior director of marketing and communications, and Joseph Kriegel, chief executive officer.
“We provide professional, therapeutic and community services that move individuals to self-sufficiency and wholeness,” Hardage said.
Catholic Charities USA is the second largest social service agency in the country, after the federal government.
Catholic Charities Atlanta works with approximately 250 refugee families a year, she said, beginning with their arrival at the airport. The agency provides a furnished apartment and staff members help the family begin to assimilate into American culture, finding jobs and placing children in school. Within six months, 91 percent of the families are self-sufficient and no longer need services, Hardage said.
Catholic Charities staff members speak a total of 26 languages, she said. Krygiel said one-third of staff members were once refugees themselves.
Another program of Catholic Charities Atlanta is its work in immigration legal services in the 69 counties that make up the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“We do not harbor illegal aliens, but we work in the detention centers to try and help them get legal papers to stay in the country legally. We are able to help 25 percent of them,” Hardage said.
Catholic Charities Atlanta also offers mental health counseling, foreclosure prevention, parenting classes, English courses, financial literacy education and disaster preparedness. After Katrina, the agency helped displaced people settle in Georgia and eventually helped many return to New Orleans.
“We serve families, the working poor, and the elderly, regardless of their religion,” she said. “In fact, we don’t even ask. We do it because we can, and this is the impact of Catholic Charities.”
Kriegel added, “Catholic Charities works with people at risk. We’re in a risky business. We have to. If we’re not going to help them, who is?”
Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, who represents the Catholic bishops of Georgia at the state legislature, Deacon Richard Tolcher, coordinator of the archdiocesan Prison and Jail Ministry, and Father Bill Williams, spiritual advisor for the AACCW and pastor of Queen of Angels Church, Thomson, spoke at a workshop sponsored by the AACCW Spirituality Commission.
Mulcahy spoke on the human right to religious freedom, drawing on the Declaration on Religious Liberty of the Second Vatican Council.
“This idea of religious freedom is a fundamental right,” Mulcahy said.
God has given people this freedom to seek him and government has a responsibility to allow all people to seek God, he said.
Mulcahy discussed the provision of the Affordable Care Act that includes abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraceptives, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that churches and religious bodies must pay for insurance that provides these. He said that the bishops were led to understand there would be an exemption for organizations with moral objections to these services. However, the exemption that was offered defined a church or religious institution very narrowly as one that only serves its own members.
The Catholic Church serves “other people and not just Catholics,” he said. So to receive the exemption it must stop doing what it is obligated to do in following Christ: serve all people. As a result, over 40 lawsuits have been filed challenging the HHS mandate as a violation of the freedom of religion.
“Who gets to say what is religion? This is really the heart of the litigation—the Church’s freedom to live its own life and live its own morality,” Mulcahy said.
Deacon Tolcher spoke of his work in prison ministry, trying to find a way to increase Catholic ministry in the 69 jails, 22 prisons and two federal facilities in the boundaries of the archdiocese.
“I recruit deacons and priests first to be a sacramental presence to the inmates,” he said. “I want them to have the same privilege you have, to hear the word of God, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.”
He said about 20 deacons serve in prison ministry. A few priests are in full-time prison ministry, while other priests try to reach the jails in parish boundaries. But the need is greater than can be met.
“We try to minister to them,” he said. “I have a couple of priests who do that full time, but they can only go to four or five institutions per week. There’s a priest who goes to death row every week. There are priests … who take care of the jails and prisons in their parishes.”
He also spoke on abolishing use of the death penalty and of the reality that some people have been cleared of a crime after spending years on death row.
“We need to provide education as to what the Church teaches,” he said. “There is no empirical reason for capital punishment. It does nothing right. There are 17 states in the United States that have abolished the death penalty. No Southern state has abolished it. We are not sorting out those who are guilty and those who are innocent,” he said.
Father Williams provided a spiritual reflection for the women at the conference. He talked about how Jesus comes to Samaria, a place considered unclean by the Jewish people, and meets a woman, outcast by her own people, and asks her for a drink of water.
“The Samaritan woman is an interesting character,” Father Williams said. “It is an understanding for us of how God comes to us in our place and in our space in life.”
In Jesus’ asking for water, the woman experiences liberation, which is the freedom of hope, grace and mercy, he said.
“Jesus is trying to help her to open herself to the gift of life that he can give, to know the freedom of God once more,” Father Williams said. “She goes back to her people and says, let me tell you what has happened to me and about this man, Jesus. She calls the people to freedom.”
Father Williams said, “We are called to open our hearts and minds and have Jesus fill us with living water.” He also compared Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman with the sacrament of reconciliation where “we are made free by the gift of God’s mercy and grace.”
“Jesus is the sacrament of life, and he forgave her unconditionally,” he said. “Jesus fills us with life, trust, and tells us to sin no more.”
Father Williams said that Christians are called to be “a people who find Christ through his saving grace” and receive the living water daily to grow in holiness in life.
The conference was considered a success by organizers.
“We have endeavored to give our convention participants the means to let their light shine before others as they return to their homes, parishes and communities,” said Dana Lee Willis, AACCW president.