By Elizabeth L. Pratt
Sun contributing writer
What do an advisor to Pope Benedict XVI, a cooking priest, and a former model have in common? All three spoke at the second annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference Oct. 29.
Dr. Helen Alvare, Father Leo Patalinghug and Leah Darrow shared their minds, hearts and even some sandwiches with approximately 1,000 women who attended the conference, which was sponsored by the Diocese of Syrcuse and held at the Oncenter. The day began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham and ended with Eucharistic Adoration. The Alicia Hernon Band provided music for the day, and more than 40 vendors were on hand offering information and goods to conference attendees.
The conference offered an opportunity for women to learn more about their faith.
The first speaker of the day was Alvare. A consult to Pope Benedict XVI’s Pontifical Council on the Laity, an associate professor of law at George Mason University, an ABC news consultant and a wife and mother, Alvare spoke on marriage and family issues facing the Church today.
“I try to take faith and illuminate reason,” Alvare said, adding that bringing the theology of the body into discussions concerning cohabitation, premarital sex, contraception, same-sex marriage, assisted reproductive technologies, no-fault divorce and out of wedlock pregnancies is vital and brings insights into how Catholic Christians must respond to such situations.
Much of her talk focused on the issue of gender mistrust, and how this one area has had an enormous impact on male-female relationships, the family and society at large. A former feminist, Alvare joked that understanding the male-female relationship wasn’t always easy. She pointed out that just as the Trinity is one in three, spouses are called to be in communion with each other in a similar way, imitating the Trinity, living in God’s image.
Alvare said Blessed Pope John Paul II’s “new feminism” helped her to see that competing with men everywhere for everything has taken a great toll on marriage and the family.
Father Leo Patalinghug, who has been featured on the Food Network and other TV shows, serves as a faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. His movement, “Grace Before Meals,” is focused on bringing families to the dinner table to learn about God and life. His humor-filled cooking presentation brought laughs and insight to conference attendees.
Father Patalinghug said uniting around food is something people have in common, and he said that it’s no surprise that Jesus becomes food for us in the Holy Eucharist.
“At the heart of the messge of salvation is food. Why do we need Jesus? The Eucharist? Because Adam and Eve broke God’s diet. One bite caused us to need a savior, and the remedy is another bite — one bite and one sip heals all our wounds.”
Father Patalinghug spoke on the generousity of women, noting that mothers feed from their very being, their very self, starting at the moment of conception.
He noted that recent studies have shown that the biggest factor in reducing teen pregnancy, teen suicide, and teen drug addiction and in increasing SAT scores is something so simple: a regular family meal. Adding God to that meal strengthens everyone.
“People are struggling to be part of something great — that something great is your family,” he said. “The greatest lessons in life are learned around the table. Food, faith, family, and fun go hand in hand. Children are really hungering for spending time with their families.
A few short years ago, Leah Darrow seemed to have it all. After a stint on the hit reality TV show America’s Next Top Model, her modeling career took off. Immersed in the world of outside appearances being the only things of worth, Darrow said she nearly lost herself.
“It was a slow fade of sin,” Darrow said. “I didn’t have any theology of the body or knowledge of what the marital act is supposed to be. I knew you weren’t supposed to [have sex] but I didn’t know why.”
Darrow said losing her virginity at 15 years old still affects her today at age 32.
“That decision broke my heart, it affected me in ways later in life that I didn’t know it would,” she said. “I was living by the thology of Leah, doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, because it felt good. For a long time I didn’t want Him [God] around because He got in the way of what I wanted, and I knew what was best.”
Darrow had strong words about the so-called reality TV shows and celebrity magazines so popular today.
“We women are worth a lot more than a picture that is photoshopped. We’re worth a lot more than the label on our clothes. I am a child of God, worthy of Christ on the cross,” she said.
For more information on the Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference and to keep updated on next year’s event, go to www.syracusecwc.com.