By Katherine Long
More than 900 Catholic women filled the Oncenter in Syracuse Oct. 27 for the third annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference, sponsored by the Diocesan Commission on Women in Church and in Society. The theme of this year’s event — “opening the doors to faith” — was inspired by the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI, which opened Oct. 11.
Participants came from all corners of the diocese for the day of speakers and fellowship, with a handful of visitors coming from as far as Boston, Chicago and Nashville, Tenn.
The day began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham. In his homily, Bishop Cunningham reflected on the examples of St. Marianne Cope and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, two women with local roots who lived dedicated and faith-filled lives. He encouraged those in attendance to take the Year of Faith as an opportunity to “know, share and live your faith,” reminding the congregation that “everyone is called to holiness.”
Speaker Teresa Tomeo gave the first presentation of the day. Tomeo spent more than 20 years as a broadcast journalist and now works as a Catholic author, Catholic talk show host, speaker and media consultant. Her talk, entitled “Faith-lift: Women putting their best ‘faith’ forward for God,” explored modern challenges facing women of faith, including the images of “beauty” presented in the mainstream media. She encouraged women to remember that they are “daughters of the King” and offered suggestions for deepening their faith lives, such as changing their media consumption habits, studying scripture daily and committing fully to God and the Church. “If God is your co-pilot,” she said, “switch seats!”
Dr. Ray Guarendi, clinical psychologist, author, public speaker and host of his own national radio and television shows, was the day’s second speaker. Drawing on his professional background and personal — and often humorous — experience as a husband and the father of 10 adopted children, Dr. Guarendi offered his views on parenting and raising a family of faith.
The final speaker was Sister Mary Gabriel, novice director for the Sisters of Life, a religious community of women “founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life.” She shared moving stories of her experiences working with pregnant women in need and those healing after abortion. Sister Mary Gabriel urged the women present to realize that they were “loved into existence” by God and that as unique, “unrepeatable” people, God has a plan for each of them.
The three speakers then took the stage together for a question-and-answer session on topics ranging from contraception to the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation.
The day ended with a reflection from Father Tom Ward and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, with musical accompaniment provided by singer-songwriter Alicia Hernon and her band.
Event organizer Nina Walters said feedback from those who attended was overwhelmingly positive, and that a few women even said it was the best year yet. The Women’s Commission hopes to begin planning next year’s conference soon, she said, but in the meantime, attendees should stay tuned for email updates from the Commission, including access to photos and other materials from the event.