Hundreds gather for Catholic Women’s Conference

By Eileen Jevis
Staff writer 

Father Joseph Esper speaks to women at the conference.

On Saturday, Nov. 11, over 600 women attended the 13th annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference at the Onondaga County Civic Center. The conference takes place to cultivate the spiritual formation of women in the diocese and to lift them out of their daily lives to have their spirit enriched by the Holy Spirit. The day consisted of prayer, a Mass celebrated by Bishop Douglas J. Lucia, speaker presentations, confession, adoration and benediction. Information booths and shopping kiosks were also available to participants.

Best-selling author and motivational speaker Immaculée Ilibagiza was one of the speakers at the event who shared her story of surviving the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The holocaust took the lives of over one million people, including most of Immaculée’s family. She, and seven other women, survived the massacre by silently hiding together in a cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house for 91 days. During her days in hiding, Immaculée said, she found her faith and taught herself English.

Immaculée told the audience that between 1981 and 1989 before the genocide occurred, Our Lady of Kibeho appeared to three young Rwandan children and warned of the impending tragedy. “Her message to the world was that people are not praying as they should. Our Lady begged the visionaries to pray in abundance for the whole world and to teach others to pray,” explained Immaculée. “Praying gives you more power, less prayer means less power or no power,” she said.

Immaculée, holding the rosary her father gave her before he was executed, said she began to pray the rosary during her hiding. “I said the rosary for the first time while I was in that bathroom,” she said. “It brought me peace. My anger and fear were killing me. But all of those emotions stopped when I prayed the rosary. I ended up saying the rosary all day while I was in that bathroom.”

Immaculée said Our Lady promises us that if we pray the rosary, she will give us peace. “Our Lady says for us to be able to fight the devil, to be at peace and even to fight the challenges of this life, we should pray the rosary at least once a day.”

“The speakers reminded us how important it is for us to pray daily,” said Pam Ward, a parishioner of St. Leo Church in Tully. “It was an excellent conference. I always learn something, and I come away with a renewed sense of purpose.” Ward said she has read some of Immaculée’s books and was excited to hear her story of how her faith got her through an unimaginable tragedy.

Ward, who did not grow up Catholic, looks for opportunities to spend time with her Catholic friends and learn about the traditions of their faith. The conference gave her the chance to spend the day with them. “I especially enjoy hearing my friends share the family traditions they grew up with and how they instill it in their families,” she said. “So many women came together in fellowship and prayer. It was inspiring and energizing.”

Susan Hacker, a parishioner from Our Lady of Good Counsel in Endicott, said speaker Daniel O’Conner reminded her of a class she took in Formation for Ministry.

He reiterated that in the history of our Church, God gives us a chance, and we, as humans, mess it up, she said. “And then God gives us another chance and we mess it up again. But Jesus forgives us our sins and tells us how to live,” said Hacker. “The conference gave me an opportunity to renew my faith and to reaffirm how privileged we are to come together to celebrate what God has given us.”

Immaculée Ilibagiza was one of three renowned speakers at the conference. Holding her rosary, she talks about the importance to pray to the Blessed Mother.

Elizabeth Clark from Immaculate Conception Parish in Binghamton said the day was very powerful. It refueled her and allowed her to step away from her very busy life to renew herself and connect with others. Clark said the sense of community and seeing all the women come together was very empowering. Clark, who has 11 children, homeschools six of them. She’s been attending the event for eight years. “I find that this conference comes at the exact right time of the year for me. I start to get a little tired and a little weary and I just need to refuel. There’s just a beautiful … presence of the Holy Spirit here.”

Clark said speaker Father Joseph Esper strengthened her commitment to pray the daily rosary. Father Esper is a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit and has appeared on EWTN and many Catholic radio shows and has written over a dozen books. “What he said really stuck with me. His message and the messages of all of the speakers today are in my heart,” said Clark.

Clark was happy to share the day with two of her children. Her 14-year-old daughter and her 10-week-old baby also attended. “I’ve been participating in this conference for so long, and it’s wonderful to be able to share it with my daughters,” she said. “My daughter recognized that this was an opportunity for her to deepen her faith as well. It’s like a mini retreat for us. I encourage anyone who has not attended the conference to sign up for next year. It’s spiritually and intellectually fulfilling.”

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